Deaf persons were doubly damned, unable to gain access not only to the moral content of proper rhetorical education but also to the right "style" of speaking. "Eloquence," offered Augustine, was really a matter of imitation, and thus achieved principally by "reading and hearing the eloquent," by "reading and listening to the orations of orators, and, in as far as it is possible, by imitating them." More particularly, a deaf student entering upon a rhetorical education, pursuing the path of the vir bonus , could barely be expected to master the nuances of correct pronunciation, to produce the right tones and the "exactest expressions, nicely proportioned to the degrees of his inward emotions," that Thomas Sheridan, the "champion of the elocution movement in the eighteenth century," claimed was a "necessity of [the] social state to man both for the unfolding, and exerting of his nobler faculties." Thus the plight of deaf students hoping to receive a rhetorical education appears even more dire—how might they become good speakers when they have never heard words, let alone tones and pronunciations, themselves?
If we turn to Quintilian's own definition of rhetoric, we see the potential of deafness to disrupt the ear and the order of rhetoric itself: rhetoric, he writes, "will be best divided, in my opinion, in such a manner that we may speak first of the art, next of the artist, and then of the work. The art will be that which ought to be attained by study, and is the knowledge how to speak well. The artificer is he who has thoroughly acquired the art, that is, the orator, whose business is to speak well. The work is what is achieved by the artificer, that is good speaking." Speaking: Quintilian's definition of rhetoric, intertwined as it is with a definition of education as well, quadruply repeats (stutters?) the central precept of speech.
By the Enlightenment, when literacy and education became more widespread, this precept sometimes fell on deaf ears. Literally. As Davis tell us, "before the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the deaf were not constructed as a group"; furthermore, when the attention of philosophers and educators during the Enlightenment did turn to deafness, "one might conclude that deafness itself was not so much the central phenomenon as was education." Thus, it was through and in education that deafness began to be known as a group trait, as a sociocultural category rather than as an individual difference—as it seems to have been referenced in writing about deafness before this point, in the Old and New Testaments and in works by Aristotle, Descartes, and others.