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Arguing over TextsThe Rhetoric of Interpretation$
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Martin Camper

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780190677121

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190677121.001.0001

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(p.113) 6 Assimilation
Arguing over Texts

Martin Camper

Oxford University Press

Chapter 6 investigates what happens when arguers disagree over how to apply a text in a new context, the stasis of assimilation. Following the rhetorical tradition, the chapter distinguishes assimilation from letter versus spirit: the latter involves a negation of the text’s apparent meaning, while the former affirms this apparent meaning as a springboard for additional inferences. After discussing the circumstances that motivate arguers to assimilate texts, the chapter builds on Aristotle’s modes of inferential reasoning to explain the ways non-explicit meanings can be elicited from a text. Drawing on modern theories of argument and cognition, the chapter considers assimilation’s special features. The chapter’s extended analysis examines the historical debate over Abraham Lincoln’s sexuality, based on letters he sent to his close friend Joshua Speed. It closes with a meditation on the power of assimilation to indefinitely extend texts to new contexts and its corollary weakness of inferring unwritten meanings.

Keywords:   Abraham Lincoln, Aristotle, assimilation, gay, homosexuality, LGBTQ, historical interpretation, primary document, inferential reasoning, ratiocinatio

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