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Seeing Together, Seeing for Ourselves: John Locke’s Search for Common Ground in Natural Historical Inquiry

Corp, Piper (2020) Seeing Together, Seeing for Ourselves: John Locke’s Search for Common Ground in Natural Historical Inquiry. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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This dissertation approaches John Locke’s natural historical commonplace books as a means of pursuing the aims of rhetoric—exploring the conditions of possibility for knowing, being, and acting together—amidst political and epistemic fragmentation that foreclosed verbal persuasion. Locke responds to this fragmentation by searching for a means of producing shared standards for sustaining communities without imposed or received authority—a means of seeing together while still seeing for ourselves. His epistemological works pursue this means by looking not to reason, but rather to the formation of clear, distinct, and, I argue, common ideas upon which reason operates. In An Essay on Human Understanding, this pursuit turns on the question of how to standardize the ideas signified by words, introducing the problem of authority, or whose ideas to use. Locke’s political writings offer a partial remedy, conceiving of authority as collective inquiry into what is common and useful across the experiences of individuals. To explicate the practices that constitute such inquiry, I read Locke’s natural historical commonplacing activities alongside his recommendations in Of the Conduct of the Understanding, a practical complement to the Essay.
The inquiry prescribed in the Conduct and performed in Locke’s notebooks is the topical inquiry of the commonplacer, adapted for natural history by Francis Bacon. An adaptive, mediatory, generative conceptual framework, the topics offer Locke a means of articulating the particular into the general and vivifying the general via the particular. In Lockean commonplacing, they allow individuals to participate in the formation of common, provisional objects of understanding via the two principal activities of the rhetorical commonplacer: accumulating perspectives and judging what is salient among them. In the Conduct, this rhetorical production of common objects emerges as Locke’s source of common ground, while the commonplacer’s rhetorical habits of inquiry constitute the civic virtues of the society he envisions. By tracing the rhetorical heritage of Locke’s remedy for the rhetorical exigencies of his moment, I present him as a rhetorical theorist—a rhetorical architect in Richard McKeon’s sense—who adapts traditional rhetorical means to address rhetoric’s defining problematic in a new milieu.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Corp, Piperpwc6@pitt.edupwc6
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairOlson,
Committee MemberKuchinskaya,
Committee MemberMarshall,
Committee MemberWynn,
Date: 16 September 2020
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 6 April 2020
Approval Date: 16 September 2020
Submission Date: 7 August 2020
Access Restriction: 2 year -- Restrict access to University of Pittsburgh for a period of 2 years.
Number of Pages: 384
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Communication: Rhetoric and Communication
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Locke, Rhetoric of science, Topics, Commonplace books, Inquiry, Politics
Date Deposited: 16 Sep 2020 13:39
Last Modified: 16 Sep 2022 05:15


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