The recovery of ancient rhetorical sources which took place in fifteenth-century Italy went hand in hand with humanists’ concern for social and political issues. Consequently, humanists’ reappropriation of such authors as Cicero and Quintilian came to broaden Aristotle’s main achievements on rhetoric. Similarly to other practical-oriented disciplines (such as law, medicine, and moral philosophy), rhetoric provided a model for teaching and discussing. Humanists dealt with the most appropriate use of inventio as a tool for building up persuasive discourses. In doing so, they could not eschew from challenging the traditional rhetorical scheme put forward by the leading lights of classical oratory.
Later on, the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century reflection on method emphasized the eminently epistemological nature of inventio, by connecting it to the inductive type of knowledge.
KeywordsMoral Philosophy Civic Education Rhetorical Scheme Epistemological Nature Religious Meaning
The origin of the term “invention” has to be traced back to the Latin word inventio. Originally, the term was referred to the mental process responsible for finding compelling arguments to support discourses (Rhetorica ad Herennium). In the traditional Aristotelian scheme, inventio was the first part of rhetoric, its aim being to set forth rhetorical syllogisms, the so-called entimemata. Later on, Aristotle’s scheme was also endorsed by Cicero (De Oratore, Orator, Brutus) and Quintilian, who clearly resided upon his Rhetoric while unfolding their own view on the different parts of discourse. According to this view, inventio still occupied the foremost position; however, Cicero and Quintilian set out to enrich Aristotle’s scheme by adding memoria and actio to dispositio and elocutio. Moreover, the relation between rhetoric and politics (that is to say, the dimension of persuasion) is dealt with by early Christian mind with a clear religious meaning. The writings of such authors as Tacitus (De oratoribus), Pseudo Longinus (Perí hýpsous), and Augustine of Hippo (De Doctrina Christiana; Pseudo-Augustine, Principia Rhetorices), while presenting the very same goals as classical oratory – i.e., docere or probare, dilectare, movere –, looked at rhetoric as an instrument enabling them to attain the true knowledge of God.
When humanists began to be committed with the recovery of classical heritage, they also began to consider the Greek-Latin rhetorical scheme as a system of teaching and discussing. Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria became a central source within the new pedagogical program, and inventio turned out to be an essential part of pupils’ civic education. Humanists such as Lorenzo Valla (Elegantiae Linguae Latinae, Dialectiae Disputationes) and Rudolph Agricola (De inventione dialectica) dealt extensively with inventio as a tool for selecting argument. They considered entimema, exemplum, and induction as essential logical components of any discourse on knowledge. The realm of truth was no longer restricted to demonstrative logic only (as in Aristotle’s Prior and PosteriorAnalytics), for this “new” rhetoric was meant to include also the sphere of probable and possible knowledge. Dealing with the traditional catalogue of liberal arts, such humanists as Agricola, Angelo Poliziano (Silvae, Lamia), and Giorgio Valla (De expedita ratione argumentandi Libellus), claimed that the arts of trivium – grammar, rhetoric, and dialectics – might play as example for other human arts, such as medicine, law, and moral philosophy (Vasoli 2002). Like these disciplines, rhetoric has to do with changeable and uncertain matters: the rhetor has therefore to take into account a sheer number of elements if he wishes to achieve persuasion (Cicero, De inventione). Accordingly, while considering ancient topical works as an indispensable tool for building persuasive discourses, inventio must go in quest of unexplored loci: the selva oscura of knowledge needs to transform into a tidy hortus in order to make inventio’s job easier. Topica and inventio may be compared to the tags on ampoules helping physicians to distinguish and combine the different remedies correctly (Vasoli 2002). Humanists did not deny their preference for Cicero’s Topics over Aristotle’s, being the former work more systematic and rooted in the real experience of rhetor and lawer (Vasoli 2007).
The interrelation between rhetoric and dialectics becomes all the more evident in the reflection on method taking place in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe, a reflection which led to a general reassessment of such notions as induction and deduction (Gilbert 1960). Unsurprisingly, in Petrus Ramus’ work (in Dialecticae Istitutiones first and in La Dialectique later), inventio turned away from the merely rhetorical sphere as it came to be absorbed by dialectics (a move which is consistent with the view once held by Agricola).
Ramus located inventio much closer to the syllogism, being that too involved in the search for the middle term. In order to avoid all the earlier discussions about categories and predications, Ramus assigned a very general meaning to the term loci (as simply “arguments”) and provided an eminently topical orientation to logic (Ong 1958). The renewal of logic and the employment of inventio are evoked by Francis Bacon in his analysis of method. In The Advancement of Learning (then De Augmentis Scientiarum), Bacon made a sharp distinction between inventio of arguments and inventio of experiments, a distinction which in his opinion may contribute to the “advancement of learning.” The “new organon” is a new logic which gets back to the original meaning of inventio (as “investigation”), while stressing at the same time the experimental-oriented nature of this notion.
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