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British writers of the Restoration and eighteenth century initiated a critique of human knowledge unrivaled in both its scope and its enthusiasm. Author Kevin L. Cope now attempts to provide a coherent, evocative account of explanatory rhetoric in early modern Britain.

Critics and historians, Cope argues, have done an admirable job of describing the details of the intellectual movements of this period but they have failed to examine the intellectual, social, and psychological implications of explanation itself. Criteria of Certainty makes up for this shortcoming by treating explanation as a composite literary and philosophical mode, as a kind of "master genre" governing the development of a variety of genres, from pithy maxims and lyric poems to lengthy treatises and epics of explanation.

Cope's probing and inventive analyses of seven writers—Rochester, Halifax, Dryden, Locke, Swift, Pope, and Smith—shed new light on many major issues in both eighteenth-century studies and critical theory. Discussing the gradual enlargement of the claims of explanatory discourse, Cope explores the problematic psychological relation between "philosophizing" authors and their expansionist, systematizing discourse.

By applying the methods of recent literary criticism to philosophical texts, Cope reexamines the possibility of a philosophical reading of literary texts, opens the possibility of "characterizing" an age, and sets a variety of genres on a common intellectual foundation. Drawing on both "canonical" and overlooked authors, he also shows how the writers of the Restoration and eighteenth century may help us to understand the immensity, vitality, and irresistibility of explanatory rhetoric in our own age.

Kevin L. Cope is associate professor of English at Louisiana State University.

"Unfolds his argument with clarity, ease, and coherence."—South Atlantic Review

"An important book which will challenge the reader."—Rocky Mountain Review

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Enlightenment, English philosophy, Rhetoric


Literature in English, British Isles

Criteria Of Certainty: Truth and Judgment in the English Enlightenment
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