Provocations of Virtue

Rhetoric, Ethics, and the Teaching of Writing

by John Duffy

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Honorable Mention, 2022 Mina P. Shaughnessy Prize

“[A] moral vision for our common future in writing studies. Reading this book is like reading a volume by Reinhold Niebuhr. Ideas are elegantly presented and compellingly advanced. I wanted to run down the hall, grab my colleagues by the shoulders, and firmly declare, ‘You must read this!’”
—Norbert Elliot, University of South Florida

“In this timely and groundbreaking book, John Duffy provocatively claims the centrality of ethics for all writing pedagogy and guides teachers in making explicit the ethical premises that surround all rhetorical encounters. Duffy convincingly demonstrates how attention to writing as a virtuous act heightens students’ awareness of the profound consequences of their writing for themselves and others. His compelling argument for rhetorical virtues offers writing studies a unifying framework that promises to create more meaningful classrooms and to revitalize civic discourse.”
—Lois Agnew, Syracuse University

"Duffy dismantles a few of the more traditional views of virtue and ethics and is clear in his ideas of what those terms can mean within a writing class. He writes in a clear, easily accessible style and offers not only theory but also a chapter filled with ideas on ways to apply that theory in the writing classroom"

"Provocations of Virtue: Rhetoric, Ethics, and the Teaching of Writing is a must-read for all who profess composition and rhetoric."
Bedford Bits Blog

"Provocations of Virtue tells a compelling story of the power of rhetorical virtues, as fluid, humanistic responses to particular social contexts, capable of transforming both student writers and public discourse in hopeful ways."
Rhetoric Review

“Accessible and concise. . . . Provocations of Virtue is surprisingly comprehensive, addressing all the questions a critical lay-reader might have."
Teaching English in the Two-Year College


In Provocations of Virtue, John Duffy explores the indispensable role of writing teachers and scholars in counteracting the polarized, venomous “post-truth” character of contemporary public argument. Teachers of writing are uniquely positioned to address the crisis of public discourse because their work in the writing classroom is tied to the teaching of ethical language practices that are known to moral philosophers as “the virtues”—truthfulness, accountability, open-mindedness, generosity, and intellectual courage.

Drawing upon Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and the branch of philosophical inquiry known as “virtue ethics,” Provocations of Virtue calls for the reclamation of “rhetorical virtues” as a core function in the writing classroom. Duffy considers what these virtues actually are, how they might be taught, and whether they can prepare students to begin repairing the broken state of public argument. In the discourse of the virtues, teachers and scholars of writing are offered a common language and a shared narrativea story that speaks to the inherent purpose of the writing class and to what is at stake in teaching writing in the twenty-first century.

This book is a timely and historically significant contribution to the field and will be of major interest to scholars and administrators in writing studies, rhetoric, composition, and linguistics as well as philosophers and those exploring ethics.

John Duffy is professor of English at the University of Notre Dame.  He has published on the ethics of writing, the rhetoric of disability, and the historical development of literacy and rhetoric in cross-cultural contexts. His books include the edited collections After Plato and Literacy, Economy, and Power, and he is the author of Provocations of Virtue and Writing from These Roots, awarded the 2009 Outstanding Book Award by the Conference on College Composition and Communication. Duffy is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship and the Rev. Edmund P. Joyce, C.S.C., Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

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  • Paperback Price: $22.95
  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-60732-826-1
  • Ebook Price: $18.95
  • 30-day ebook rental price: $9.50
  • EISBN: 978-1-60732-827-8
  • Publication Month: March
  • Publication Year: 2019
  • Pages: 176
  • Discount Type: Short
  • Author: by John Duffy
  • ECommerce Code: 978-1-60732-826-1
  • Get Permissions: Get Permission

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