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Abstract

This paper explores the simultaneous and self-conscious construction and deconstruction of the persona of the philosopher and rhetorician in the satirical tradition descended from Menippus and Lucian, in the humanist circle of Thomas More and Richard Pace in the early 16th century to Robert Burton in the mid-17th century. I shall focus on the following aspects: i. the Renaissance Democritus reborn, the laughing philosopher whose demeanour and life style challenges accepted philosophical and theological schools and who creates his own Utopian philosophical commonwealth; ii. the multiple and sometimes competing offices (diplomat, cleric, educator, preacher, theologian, servant of the crown) held by these early modern philosophical satirists, and their shaping influence on their philosophical, political and religious thought; iii. how the particular construction of philosophical persona has a profound implications for philosophical insight and the generic form in which it is articulated and communicated; iv. how the audience of the philosopher is graded and sectarian, and itself can be actively involved in the construction and undermining of the identity of the philosopher. The paper concludes with a discussion of how the construction a serio-comic philosophical persona can expose the reputation of the philosopher and his (and potentially her) work to ridicule in changed historical circumstances or at the hands of hostile readers. The broader aim of this paper is to suggest how certain non-dogmatic satirical forms, characterized by eclecticism and encyclopaedism, encourage a particular understanding of the mechanisms and forms of argument and persuasion, beyond merely the subject matter of philosophy.

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