Rhetoric in the Royal Society

It seemed to me that Thomas Sprat was more concerned about the development of language than he was about the breakthrough of scientific discoveries as he had been called into the Royal Society for being a rhetorician. His ideas were similar to that of a minimalist, and he strongly desired to get rid of the excess he calls ornament in the English Language. He stated that the sophistication of language has two uses, one is for the use of bad intent and the other for good intent. Bad, as in persuading one to believe a lie, and good, as in to express truth. The Royal Society was an organization with the purpose of spreading knowledge exactly as they were discovered, noting more, nothing less. They were not set out to sway an individual’s conception about anything. I saw influential ideas from other rhetoricians through Sprat’s ideas, for example, Gorgias said truth and reality is shaped by the world around us. No individual can truly decide what they want, instead, decided what they see and hear. If we can do this, then we essentially decide for ourselves what we believe and what truth is. Sprat said language was once used as an admirable instrument “to describe goodness, honesty, obedience, in a large, purer, and more moving images, to represent truth”. And now it is used to defy reason through “abundance of phrase, trick of metaphors, and volubility of tongue”. And then as Aristotle said, in the context of law, that “emotions has nothing to do with the essential facts, but is merely a personal appeal to the man who is judging the case”. This is a scary thought when put into scientific research. We strongly feel like what research shows is almost always right, not knowing if any of them were lies.

Through the discovery of vaccination, electricity, planets, photography, etc., many of the innovations has been good and easy to comprehend. This may be due to the Royal Society’s aim to return to writing in primitive purity and shortness. Contemporary rhetoricians like Gloria Anzaldua follows these ideals in her belief in organic writing. Men in the seventeenth century made big and life-changing discoveries that men today can only wish to discover. Much more funding is being directed toward research in the sciences now than there ever were before for the sake of knowing. Research now has also improved and become more precise due to technological advancements especially going from tying a key to a kite to determining the structure of DNA. One can easily look at a research article and understand clearly what the research is about. That is one thing that has not changed. Information is public and anyone can get a hold of it.

-Van Vang


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