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Between Medicine and Rhetoric

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Inspired by Pierre-Jean-Georges Cabanis' claim in 1798 that physicians might learn forms of medical reasoning from les anciens rhéteurs, in this paper I explore intimate associations between medicine and rhetoric over the longue durée. Gravely susceptible to error, medical reasoning relies on signs and examples, both gleaned from experience and both the subject of rhetorical inquiry; like rhetoric, medicine reaches plausible conclusions from probable premises. Here, ranging from Hippocrates and Plato through Aristotle to early modern England, I argue that forms of inference developed and refined in the history of rhetoric offer ancient and early modern philosophers and physicians models and metaphors for their own forays into the probable.


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