Johanna Luggin

Field of Research: Persuasion
Systema ideale pyrophylaciorum subterraneorum (Underground Fires). From: Athanasius Kircher, Mundus subterraneus, vol. 1, 2nd ed. Amsterdam 1678.

Early modern scientific authors often contradicted prevailing opinions and disagreed with each other over crucial issues. If possible, they resorted to incontestable evidence or mathematical demonstration to decide the matter under discussion. But often, there was no hard proof at hand. In such cases, verbal persuasion was called for. Much has been written about theories of proof and persuasion in early modern science. But little thought has been given to their rhetorical underpinnings, despite the well-known influence of legal thinking on scientific argumentation and despite the fact that rhetoric was first and foremost a technique of forensic speech. Analysis of how persuasion worked in early modern scientific practice has been confined to a few famous vernacular authors such as Galilei and Robert Boyle. These omissions will be rectified in the present sub-project.

The project will thus analyse the rhetorical character of Neo-Latin scientific works from the 17th and 18th centuries: it will i.a. present examples of Neo-Latin didactic poetry as a vehicle of persuasion in early modern science; it will show how experiments were used as rhetorical devices within rational argumentation, e.g. in William Gilbert’s De magnete; it will analyse the role of patronage and self-fashioning as rhetorical tool within scientific innovation; and it will investigate the reception of ancient thought in the rhetorical strategies of geological works of the period.

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