SIU Department Name | Page Title

siu logo siupress logo

SIU logo


Main Content Area

Inventive Intercourse

Inventive Intercourse

From Rhetorical Conflict to the Ethical Creation of Novel Truth

Add to Cart

Stephen R. Yarbrough


Hardcover (Other formats: E-book)
216 pages, 6 x 9


Additional Materials

About the Book

Applying interactionist discourse theory to show how we create novel beliefs

Inventive Intercourse: From Rhetorical Conflict to the Ethical Creation of Novel Truth offers a theory of discursive interaction, illustrating how we can understand human communication without resorting to the notion of language. Using the perspective of interactionist discourse theory, author Stephen Yarbrough investigates how we create novel beliefs, beliefs we could not have inferred from our established beliefs.

The volume considers a central dilemma of post-modern thought: If language is a system of conventions and rules that limit what we can say and think, how can we deliberately produce anything truly novel? While postmodernism concludes that linguistic and conceptual change within our incommensurable worlds is driven by contingency and blind mechanical forces, Yarbrough argues that this view is wrong because the notion that language mediates our perception is wrong.

Beginning with philosopher Donald Davidson’s assertion that "there is no such thing as language" in the sense of a system of conventions and rules, Yarbrough develops an interactionist theory of discourse and uses it to revise the major elements of Aristotelian rhetoric to explain how we deliberately invent novel concepts that we come to believe.

Yarbrough suggests that all conceptual change is initiated by a shift in our ethical apperception of elements of a situation and that an ethical change will have emotional consequences. Changes in our emotional responses to things will change the ways we interact with them, he says, and changes in our interaction with things will create new technical relations which we can communicate to others only by altering our habitual shared way of using signs, metaphors, and other tropes.


Stephen R. Yarbrough is a professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He is the author or coauthor of four books, including AfterRhetoric: Studies in Discourse Beyond Language and Culture, published by Southern Illinois University Press.


This fine work offers a new and meaningful analysis of what is involved in attaining novel truth through rhetorical conflict. The central question is this: How can one, through rhetorical discourse (i.e., "purposeful interaction between and among people and things"), "invent concepts that [one could not have] inferred from those [one] already understand[s]"? For Yarbrough (English, Univ. of North Carolina, Greensboro) invention is an interlocutive process that involves an interpretive vision and revision through a dialogic situation. The author carefully analyzes theories of Aristotle, Plato, and contemporary rhetoricians, and then both extends and repudiates them in arriving at his own theory. Based on Donald Davidson's causal signs, he argues that a change in ethical stance initiates invention and redefines discourse. Both pragmatic and Peircean, Yarbrough's theory encompasses notions of mutual conditioning (note Adam Smith). The inventive circle as suggested by Richard McKeon is clarified as entailing choice consequent to need and consideration of cost. With this volume, Yarbrough significantly advances the argument he made in After Rhetoric (CH, May'00, 37-4925) and in so doing advances understanding of how one arrives at novel truth. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above.