Fahnestock’s Rhetorical Figures in Science

Jeanne Fahnestock
Rhetorical Figures in Science
Area: Digital Media

•    To what extent does language do our thinking for us?
•    Moves beyond the metaphor and tropes allied to the metaphor
o    Antithesis, gradatio, incrementation, antimetabole, ploche, polyptoton
•    Rhetoric: general pejorative connotation as verbal deceit
•    Aristotle is still worth consulting
o    ≠ Walker who tries to move away from Aristotleian critique but still uses it in his own work
•    Antithesis: opposed terms in symmetrical phrases (Aristotle’s definition)
o    “Buy low, sell high”
•    Antimetabole: no center, a mechanism for reversing the syntactic positions of two terms and in the process reversing their grammatical and conceptual relation to each other
o    “Those who know don’t tell, and those who tell don’t know”
o    Expresses identity claims, especially in geometry
•    Figures of repetition:
o    Ploche: precise repetition of a term within or across several sentences
•    Perfect repetition
o    Polyptoton: recurrence of the same roof in various forms
•    (Figure, figured, figural, figurally)
•    Create families of coordinate terms for transfer
•    We might pursue a ‘one mind’ hypothesis, that the same cognitive/verbal skills serve any subject of inquiry
viii: “These approaches are fruitful and satisfying when the goal is an appreciation of a work in its intellectual or cultural moment or an assessment of its role in an argument field.  But this book is more concerned with the technique of rhetoric itself, specifically with certain linguistic constructions called figures of speech.  Thus rhetoric is used in this study to illuminate scientific arguments, but, more importantly here, scientific arguments are used to illuminate rhetoric.”
ix-x: “The incrementum is a series whose members share an attribute in increasing or decreasing degree and an gradatio is a series whose members overlap but need not possess the same quality.  Series reasoning is used to create places for terms—beginning, end, or middle—a case in point being the construction of fossil series to explain living forms.  Incomplete series, or series with holes, can provide a rationale for identifying missing elements, a tactic used in the nineteenth century to create and fill the periodic table of elements and in the eighteenth to predict the existence of a missing planet between Mars and Jupiter.  Overlapping series, on the model of the gradatio, are used to establish set relations and causal chains, as examples from ecological arguments demonstrate, and series are also used to dissolve established differences between categories and so to refigure a conceptual domain, replacing differences in kind by differences in degree.”
xi: “But scientific arguments are chosen to illustrate the devices for several reasons.   First is clarity. Scientific arguments, as arguments supporting claims about the way nature is or works, tend to give their main lines of reasoning a high profile; they are, in terms of the argumentative strategies looked at here, fairly open objects of analysis. Second, scientific arguers often resort to visual persuasion, so it is possible to follow certain figures of speech into their expression as ‘figures’ in another sense.  This consistency between the visual and verbal helps to underscore the fundamental conceptual processes expressed by figures.  Third, scientific arguments are used here to weaken the old misconception that the domain of rhetoric does not extend to the sciences since rhetorical invention presumably prescribes only the reassembly of conventional truths, while scientific invention involves the discovery of new truths.  The ‘new science’ of the seventeenth century deliberately exaggerated its break with the prevailing intellectual and pedagogical tradition—that it, with rhetoric—as part of its campaign to inspire inquiry.  But language does do much of our thinking for us, even in the sciences, and rather than being an unfortunate contamination, its influence has been productive historically, helping individual thinkers generate concepts and theories that can then be put to rest.”
From Katz’s Review:
•    “Fahnestock examines how verbal (and to a lesser extent in this book visual) forms not only increase the clarity and persuasiveness of scientific discourse but also stylistically reflect the process of scientific reasoning and the structure of scientific knowledge.”


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