"A capital and novel argument": Charles Darwin's notebooks and the productivity of rhetorical consciousness Academic Article uri icon


  • With the rise of poststructuralist critiques of the autonomous subject, attention has shifted from the nature of "intentional persuasion to the constitutive nature of discourse. Although this turn has led to valuable new insights into the nature of rhetoric, it also threatens to discount one of the most vital contributions of the rhetorical tradition - the nature of rhetorical invention. This essay seeks to recover the notion of invention by drawing from John Dewey's naturalistic interpretation of experience. In Dewey's framework, "consciousness is neither the private contents of thought nor a point of articulation for social discourse, but a practice of manipulating public meanings as a means of responding to problematic situations. I then use Dewey's notion to advance the concept of a "rhetorical consciousness, which I define in terms of the sophistical principles of imitatio and dissoi logoi . To demonstrate the pragmatic significance of this concept, I then show, through an analysis of Charles Darwin's notebooks, how Darwin employed his own rhetorical consciousness within his struggle to invent the revolutionary arguments that led up to his publication of On the Origin of Species . My hope is that this naturalistic interpretation of rhetorical invention will contribute to the ongoing project of cultivating a more intelligent, critical, and creative citizenry through the application of classical rhetorical principles to contemporary democratic forms of education in both the arts and sciences.

published proceedings

  • Quarterly Journal of Speech

author list (cited authors)

  • Crick, N.

citation count

  • 4

complete list of authors

  • Crick, N

publication date

  • November 2005