Epistemology and Judicial Rhetoric

in What Did the Romans Know?

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780226471143
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226471150 | DOI:
Epistemology and Judicial Rhetoric

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This chapter proposes that Lucius Annaeus Seneca's remarkable Natural Questions can be regarded as belonging to a then popular genre of rhetorical treatise (controversiae) that examined difficult moral problems as though they were court cases, with the reader playing the role of judge. It tries to demonstrate how jurisprudential ideas interacted with thinking on nature, and how actual courtroom practice came to the aid of epistemology by developing a space for testimony and eyewitnesses in assessments of probability. Natural Questions was the only extended treatise on physics still extant from the pen of a professed Stoic. Seneca depicted himself a master of what Cicero calls the “visual subjectio.” The use of an interlocutory voice and the use of imperative verbs are important parts of the rhetoric of the Natural Questions. Seneca revealed that he was perfectly aware that his argument was part of a similar epistemological engagement.

Keywords: epistemology; nature; Lucius Annaeus Seneca; Natural Questions; jurisprudential ideas; rhetorical treatise; Cicero

Chapter.  12451 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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