This article seeks to show how the republic of letters as an ideal of communication took shape between the early modern period and the early enlightenment by transforming the culture of debate within universities. While oral university disputations arbitrarily distributed the roles of respondent and opponent, thus intentionally dissociating the man and the position defended, the republic of letters, which operates through texts and preferably in the periodic press, presupposes all speech acts to be assertive. It is taken for granted that all defended positions are actually held by the speaker. Drawing on the works of Pierre Bayle, Christian Thomasius, and Christian Gottfried Hoffmann, this article will argue that the separation of person and argument is reconceived in the service of a newly emerging public sphere. Impartiality is introduced as a specific quality of judgement that is required of all participants as a type of self-regulation, thus compensating the loss of the institutional frame that was previously provided by disputation.
© 2016 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston