Johanna Luggin

CV and List of Publications


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 (R. W. Serjeantson, Proof and Persuasion, in: K. Park/L. Daston, eds., The Cambridge History of Science, vol. 3: Early Modern Science, Cambridge 2006, 132175). But little thought has been given to their rhetorical underpinnings, despite the well-known influence of legal thinking on scientific argumentation (e.g. L. Daston, Baconsche TatsachenRechtsgeschichte. Zeitschrift des Max-Planck-Instituts für Europäische Rechtsgeschichte 1 [2002], 3655) 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 material basis will be provided by a number of texts from major scientific controversies, for example concerning atomism, the Ptolemaic, Copernician and Tychonic world systems, the nature of fossils or the sexuality of plants. These texts will be analysed according to the three dimensions of rhetorical persuasion: rational argument (lógos), the self-presentation of the speaker (éthos) and the emotional arousal of the audience (páthos). Early modern science made full use of all of these - which is why it often makes for a colourful read, sharply contrasting with the style of modern science. It will thus be studied how authors tried to convince their readers rationally, applying the ramified theory of courtroom argumentation; how they catered for their trust by presenting themselves as well-respected members of the scientific community, as selfless labourers and even as heroes risking life and limb for scientific progress (and their opponents as the opposite); and how they swept their readers off their feet by the evocation of sublime natural spectacles, by the idea that science furthered the understanding of God’s plan and, on the stylistic level, by the devices of the great style (genus grande).

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