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A History of Ambiguity$
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Anthony Ossa-Richardson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691167954

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691167954.001.0001

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The Old Rhetoric

The Old Rhetoric

(p.27) Chapter One. The Old Rhetoric
A History of Ambiguity

Anthony Ossa-Richardson

Princeton University Press

This chapter discusses the Old Rhetoric, sketching the long persistence in the West—from Aristotle to the early twentieth century—of a ‘single meaning model’ of language, one that takes ambiguity for granted as an obstacle to persuasive speech and clear philosophical analysis. In Aristotle's works are the seeds of three closely related traditions of Western thought on ambiguity: the logicosemantic, the rhetorical, and the hermeneutic. The first seeks to eliminate ambiguity from philosophy because it hinders a clear analysis of the world. The second seeks to eliminate ambiguity from speech because it hinders the clear and persuasive communication of argument. The third, an extension of the second, seeks to resolve textual ambiguity because it hinders the reader's ability to grasp the writer's intention. The chapter then considers Aristotle's two types of verbal ambiguity: homonym and amphiboly. The solution to both—whether their presence in a discussion is accidental or deliberate—is what Aristotle calls diairesis or distinction, that is, the explicit clarification of the different meanings involved.

Keywords:   Old Rhetoric, Aristotle, ambiguity, persuasive speech, philosophical analysis, hermeneutic, textual ambiguity, verbal ambiguity, homonym, amphiboly

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