Let me count the ways
May 27, 2011 4:44 AM Subscribe
[Philosophy/Language/HistoryFilter]: What's the name of this rhetorical or logical technique, where you explain a subject by making a lot of lists?
posted by gallusgallus to religion & philosophy (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'm looking for a way to describe the old-fashioned pedagogical or philosophical practice where an author overviews a subject by breaking it down into successive informational sub-levels (which may be categories, qualities, techniques, anything), arranged in numbered lists, then explaining each list-item in turn. To offer a completely absurd made-up example, in biology, a text might run:
There are 5 main kinds of cats: black ones, yellow ones, grey ones, white ones, and striped ones. Black cats are very fierce, because their coloring hides them in the dark and makes them confident about hunting; yellow and grey cats are inclined to lie on windowsills in the sun; and white cats are shy and retiring because they are so conspicuous. Striped cats are generally changeable and unpredictable. Now, in the temperament of a cat, there are 3 primary qualities: the cat's intelligence, its playfulness, and its bloodthirstiness. The first is what enables the cat to diligently lie in wait for its prey and to predict their moves, and an intelligent cat will generally pursue the more challenging prey, like rats and skunks, in order to keep its mind exercised. The second is...(and so forth)
The context is the sixteenth century, Europe, so I feel as though there must be some classical or medieval model at work, but I haven't been able to come up with anything concrete. I suppose I could describe it as enumeration or analysis, but each of those seems to leave out critical elements. Any ideas? Leads? Thanks!