Philosophy, rhetoric and medicine in the writing of Robert Burton

Yvonne India-Jane Kiddle

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis examines the intrication of philosophy, rhetoric and medicine in the writing of Robert Burton (Philosophaster, 1606/17; The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621). One of the key questions investigated, concerns the extent to which Platonic philosophy may be said to inform the conceptual framework of Burton’s two major works. The way in which rhetoric is used as a vehicle to strategically expound and promote Burton’s use of Platonic philosophy is explored, primarily in relation to the rightful approach to knowledge (which is equated to truth) as a palliative and salvationary quantity. The first part of this thesis offers an investigation of the latter as it occurs in Burton’s satirical play, Philosophaster, where both historical and contemporary sources are examined with regard to questions concerning the nature of ‘true’ philosophy and its impact on the salubrious order or health of individuals and communities; acts of social, individual and institutional vigilance against perceived pejorative change in this domain are investigated and assessed in accord with Burton’s commentary in Philosophaster. The second part of this thesis crosses the ideological bridge which may be said to exist between Burton’s two interconnected works, and concerns Burton’s investigation and treatment of the disease or disorder of melancholy, as demonstrated in The Anatomy of Melancholy. Burton’s ‘anatomizing of melancholy’, his process of diagnosis, disease categorisation, prognosis and proposed regimen/s for cure are explored primarily in terms of his investment in the convergent traditions of the Platonic and Christian/Patristic paideic programmes of self-examination and self-cultivation (self-education). The function of rhetoric in a contextually dynamic medico-philosophical framework is explored at length, especially in terms of its facilitating a transcendence of the material world (in the Augustinian sense), thereby enabling the ascent to a realm where a condition of unity and wellness may be accessed. The view that the rhetorical text per se embodies both in and of itself an ideologically-aligned (performative and/or illocutionary) vehicle for cure is considered, as is the more prosaic notion of rhetoric as a model for an Early Modern enquiry practice of experiment.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Western Australia
  • Lynch, Andrew, Supervisor
  • White, Robert, Supervisor
Award date8 Jun 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2015


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