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The Conversational Enlightenment

The Reconception of Rhetoric in Eighteenth-Century Thought

David Randall

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The ever-widening application of conversational style created a conversational Enlightenment

The Conversational Enlightenment traces the spread of the concept of conversation during the Enlightenment, including the project of politeness, the fine arts, philosophy and public opinion. The book narrates this triumph of conversational style and thought partly as a succession to the oratorical rhetoric that characterised the Renaissance and partly as the victory of the only mode of speech that recognised women as women, and not as imitation men. It also rewrites Jürgen Habermas’ history of the public sphere as the history of rational conversation.

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1 The Society and Culture of Conversation

2 The Oratorical Arts

3 The Conversational Arts

4 The Philosophy of Conversation

5 Public Opinion




About the Author

David Randall is Director of Research at the National Association of Scholars. His publications include Credibility in Elizabethan and Early Stuart Military News (2008) and English Military News Pamphlets, 1513-1637 (2011).


In this bold and wide-ranging investigation, Randall shows how the Western rhetorical tradition illuminates conversation and its impact on literature, philosophy and art in eighteenth-century Britain, France and America. What emerges is an account of the politics of conversation that reconfigures our understanding of the eighteenth-century communicative domain.

- Lawrence E. Klein, University of Cambridge

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