Modern Languages and Literatures, Department of


Date of this Version

October 1996


Published in Encyclopedia of Rhetoric and Composition, edited by Theresa Enos (New York & London: Garland Publishing, 1996), pp. 180–181. A division of the Taylor & Francis Group. Used by permission.


Mathematician and founder of modern philosophy, known for his distrust of formal rhetoric. The Cartesian method and effort to achieve philosophic certainty are often cited as a challenge to rhetoric; yet, given Descartes's frequent deployment of rhetorical strategies, it is not surprising that his system makes provision for their provisional use. Furthermore, in spite of Descartes's aspiration toward a philosophy beyond rhetoric, postmodern critics find his system an entirely rhetorical construct.