By Stephen J McKenna
The 1st book-length therapy of Adam Smith’s rhetorical concept.
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Additional resources for Adam Smith: The Rhetoric of Propriety
Plato’s is important in the history of propriety, however, for he clarified aporia with which later theorists, notably Aristotle, would contend. And if Gorgias is in some ways a classical precursor of Hume, Plato is something of an analogous precursor for another of Smith’s influential near-contemporaries, Shaftesbury. From a casual look at some Platonic writings, one might not easily see that propriety posed nearly a theoretical impossibility for Plato. Take Socrates’ famous strategy announced in the proem to his main argument in Apology: “It would hardly be suitable [prepontos], gentlemen, for a man of my age to address you in the artificial language of a schoolboy orator” (17c).
It is possible that Smith, with his keen knowledge of Greek, may have been at least sensitive to this. As Prier amply shows, though this holistic phenomenology of sight in archaic Greek may be impossible to translate neatly into any modern language and thus is somewhat difficult for us to grasp, it is not in the least bit subtle in Homer. 45). Although it can be perilous to assert neat analogies between ancient and modern minds, a radical cognitive disjuncture between the two is less likely than differences, even significant ones, of degree.
Apparently sensing that the end was near, in early 1790 he instructed his literary executors to destroy his papers, and they did—some sixteen folio volumes. Smith died a week later, on June 17. Perhaps nothing would be of greater value to those interested in Smith the rhetorician than to know what he read at Balliol and during those two years back in Kirkcaldy prior to giving his rhetoric lectures in Edinburgh, but of this there is no record. Nevertheless, it is quite likely that his reading dealt 24 A DA M S M IT H extensively with rhetoric, else how could Kames have had the confidence to ask him to lecture on the subject?