Certum atque Confessum: Lorenzo Valla on the Forensics of Certainty

McNamara, Charles Joseph

At the center of Valla’s refashioning of dialectic as a rhetorical practice is a novel understanding of certainty taken from Quintilian’s handbook, an understanding of certainty rooted in what is agreed upon rather than what is objectively true. By separating certum from verum and by presenting dialectic as the practice of drawing out confessions rather than proving logical truths in his Dialecticae Disputationes, Valla recasts philosophical argumentation as a forensic project of crafting consensus-based certainties. In several other works, too, including his Elegantiae and marginal commentary on Quintilian’s Institutio itself, Valla consistently uses a set of vocabulary to link certainty with consensus, particularly the understanding of consensus at the heart of the ancient inventional strategy of status theory.


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Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric

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September 18, 2018