Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

Ancient Techne for the Age of Technology: Rhetorical and Dialectical Techne as a Foundation for Learning

William Michael Purcell.

It considers the impact that early technes of rhetoric had on Greek and Roman cultures, ultimately arguing that technological innovation is largely cumulative and thus based upon both the strengths and limitations of foundation technologies. It is the perpetuation of technological limitations that justifies renewed instruction of the trivium. Examples engaged will range from Plato's critique of oratory and Cicero's duties of the orator to John F. Kennedy's antioratorical "Inaugural Address" and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s oratorical "I Have A Dream." Kennedy's address, remembered for its soundbite ("ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country") breaks most conventions of oratorical style with its long sentences, unutterable by Kennedy in a single breath. King, on the other hand, demonstrates almost pure Greek oratory with his rhythmic cadences and figurative language. Contemporary fascination with overhead projectors and powerpoint will be considered in tension with Cicero's simple injunction to teach, delight, and to move. Ultimately, one is left with Plato's age old question as to whether one must have knowledge of his or her techne to use it responsibly.


William Michael Purcell  (United States)
Associate Professor
Department of Communication and Journalism
Seattle Pacific University

William Purcell is Associate Professor of Communication and Journalism at Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of Ars poetriae: Rhetorical and Grammatical Invention at the Margin of Literacy (Univ. South Carolina Press, 1996).

  • Rhetoric
  • Dialectic
  • Techne
  • Technology
Person as Subject
  • Plato Cicero Kennedy, John F. King, Jr., Martin Luther

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)