“Without a Word from Us”

I’ve noticed a type of rhetorical device where the speaker claims to be simply drawing a conclusion from premises that other people have given. The first example is from Cicero’s book Academica, which takes the form of a dialogue between a skeptic and a Stoic. In the section quoted, a skeptic is speaking. The second example is from St. Augustine’s book the City of God, where he summarizes his criticism of Roman and Greek shows about the gods, which portrayed the gods doing evil things. Romans allowed the shows and worshipped the gods they portrayed, but treated the actors of the shows poorly. Greeks also allowed the shows, but treated the actors honorably.

In this way, without a word from us, but with one principle from Epicurus and one principle from you [Lucullus, a Stoic], perception with the senses and certainty are eliminated. What is Epicurus’ principle? If any presentation to the senses is false, nothing can be known. And yours? There are false presentation to the senses. What follows? Even if I should keep silent the argument itself declares that nothing can be known.” – Cicero, Academica, 2.101 [I changed some of the terminology to make it easier to understand]

And the whole of this discussion may be summed up in the following syllogism. The Greeks give us the major premise: If such gods are to be worshipped, then certainly such men may be honored. The Romans add the minor: But such men must by no means be honoured. The Christians draw the conclusion: Therefore such gods must by no means be worshipped.” – St. Augustine, City of God, 2.13

St. Augustine definitely knew about Cicero: he was actually put on his life journey to seek wisdom after reading one of Cicero’s books, the Hortensius. And we know that he also read the Academica because he cites it later on in the City of God. So I wonder if he learned this clever piece of rhetoric from it. I would also like to find other examples of this!


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