Adam Smith: The Rhetoric of Propriety by Stephen J McKenna

By Stephen J McKenna

The 1st book-length therapy of Adam Smith’s rhetorical thought.

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Extra resources for Adam Smith: The Rhetoric of Propriety

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Here we meet a seemingly full cognizance of to prepon: Socrates knows that certain types of speech are thought to be appropriate to certain character types, ages, and origins, and he even draws on the alliance in preSocratic thought between kairos and dikê in tying his will to extemporize to Smith and Propriety in the Classical Tradition 33 the justice of his cause. But his position actually parodies that ideology. In distancing himself from the mode of discourse used by his accusers, even while going through the motions of a standard exordial apology for his style, Socrates knowingly commits a grave insult and impropriety, precisely because he was not a foreigner.

11 One can become a “finished performer” (269d) by studying “mere empirical routine” (270b), but “the art itself, as distinct from the artist” (269d) requires what Pericles had: not only practice in speaking, but “high flown speculation” (270a). From his knowledge of human nature, Pericles “applied to the art of rhetoric what was suitable thereto” (270a). This might suggest a rhetoric based in a large way on at least one sense of propriety, for the speech would have to be adapted to the nature of the hearers.

In a memorable passage in the Gorgias, Callicles uses the idea of propriety to criticize Socrates’ chosen way of life. Here we still encounter close connections between seeing and propriety as a conventional Athenian notion: When I see [idô] a little child, for whom it is still proper [prosêkei] enough to speak in this way, lisping and playing, I like it and it seems to me [phainetai: appears] pretty and ingenuous and appropriate [prepon] to the child’s age, and when I hear it talking with precision, it seems to me disagreeable and it vexes my ears and appears [dokei] to me more fitting for a slave [douloprepes], but when one hears a grown man lisping and playing the child, it looks [phainetai] ridiculous and unmanly and worthy of a beating.

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