Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

Chapter II

§ 8. The First Appearance of this Idea

The historic career of the idea of Encyclopedia is different from that of the name. Much of what falls under this idea bore a different name, while on the other hand the name Encyclopedia has repeatedly been used for what was entirely foreign to the idea of it. The idea of Encyclopedia lies in the conception that the several parts of human knowledge are related to each other, and that it is possible and necessary for our mind to penetrate into this relation and to explicate it. When a group of phenomena reflects itself in a mirror, man is compelled to investigate not merely those phenomena, but also the reflected image, by means of Optics. And what Optics effects for the image presented to sight. Encyclopedia designs to do for the reflection of what exists in our science. There lies a majesty in the human mind by virtue of which it cannot rest until it has acquired full dominion in the world of thought. It cannot bear the suggestion that there should still be something in that world of thought that has withdrawn itself from the power of its sceptre. This impels it to scan not merely the whole horizon of phenomena with its knowledge, but the field of knowledge itself with its thought. An atomistical science offends the unity-sense of its own mind, or, by the pulverizing of the cosmos, robs that mind of confidence of step in its walk. And therefore it is bound to presume a relation between the parts of its knowledge also, nor can it rest until it has seen through that relation organically, because in this way only can science harmonize with the organic unity of its own thinking, as well as with the organic unity of the Kosmos.

But the human mind does not subject this field of knowledge to its greatness all at once. At best it is a process of slow growth. A space of twenty-three centuries separates Plato from Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre and Hegel's Encyclopaedic, and Real-Encyclopedia still stands only at the very beginning of its clearer development. If Diogenes Laertius (IV. I, 5) can be believed, Plato already ventured upon a somewhat systematic classification of the several parts of our knowledge in a lost work, AidXoyoi Tcov irepl Ttjv irpayp-areiav ofiouDv. The same is said of Speusippus, Plato's kinsman, in his "Opoi, and of Aristotle in his Hepl eiriarv^v; but since these writings have not been preserved, it is not possible to judge of the tendency of these studies. So much, however, is certain, that in those circles serious thinking was already begun upon the iraiBeia in general and the etnarfjfiai as such, but it took at once a more practical course. Aristotle indeed defined the boundary and the task of the several sciences. And Varro and Pliny actually put together the contents of different parts of knowledge. The organism itself of the plant was not reached; flowers were picked and tied together as bouquets, but in such a way that the relation was found at first almost solely in the cord that was twined about the stems, and a harmonious arrangement of flowers after their kinds is scarcely yet suggested. Varro's Rerum humanarum et divinarum antiquitates and his Disciplinarum libri IX have both been lost, and Pliny's Historia naturalis is the only treatise that enables us to form any idea of the defectiveness of these first efforts.

With Hugo of St. Victor (fH41) and Vincent of Beauvais (f1264) the eye is opened to this harmony in classification. That which Marcianus Capella (|406) gives us in his Satyricon, Cassiodorus (f562) in his Institutio divinarum litterartim, Isidore of Seville (f636) in his Origines, and Hrabanus Maurus (f856) in his De universo libri XXII. strives indeed after unity, as may be seen from Hrabanus' title, but succeeds only in the presentation of a distasteful and overdone bouquet. Hugo of St. Victor, on the other hand, seems to have an eye for the inner relation of the sciences when in his Eruditio didascalia he gives us a descriptio et partitio artium, in which he endeavors to show /juomodo unaquaeque disciplina contineat aliam et ab alia contineatur. But even his systematic talent did not reach far. I le divides the disciplinae into three groups: (1) the theorica contra ignorantiam (to wit: theology, physics and mathematics); (2) the practica contra vitium (to wit: ethics, oeconomics and politics); and (3) the mechanica contra infirmitatem (to wit: mechanica, to which the trivium is added). Vincent followed chiefly the division of Hugo, which (with the exception of the change of mechanica into poetica) held its ground till the seventeenth century, but he gave it a more enduring phase by the division of his giant work into speculum historiale, naturale and doctrinale, to which was added at a later date a speculum morale by one of his followers. The mutual relation of the sciences is grasped somewhat more firmly already by Bonaventura (f1274) and by Thomas Aquinas (|1274). Excellent suggestions are given by Louis tie Vives (j-1540) in his XX books de cans. corrupt. art. de trad. discipl. et de ortibus; but this relation was grasped for the first time as organic by Bacon of Verulam (f1626), who in his work de dignitate et augmentis scientiarum (Lond. 1624). and more yet in his organon scientiarum (1620), divided the sciences organically, i.e. after a principle derived from those sciences themselves. The development of this idea could follow only when the task of collecting the contents of ready knowledge gave place to reflection on the relations of what had been collected. No doubt, only those who have never looked into Alstedt's Encyclopedia can dispute the fact that this gigantic systematician had the systematizing talent: but the material to be collected began to be too extensive for the handling of it all and the deeper study of its relations to lie within the reach of a single scholar.

§ 9. Development of the Organic Idea

Since from the days of Plato the human mind has been dimly conscious of the fact that the several parts of our knowledge form one body (o-eo/ta); since it has been sought in every way to give expression to this consciousness by the actual collection of the several fragments of this one knowledge in one work, or more correctly by reflecting it in one speculum; and since the arrangement of this crude mass of itself demanded an account of the manner in which these members of this one body were related, —the ever-increasing burden of ready knowledge needed to be thrown from the shoulder before the human mind could be sufficiently free, with ever more definiteness of purpose, to choose this relation as the object of investigation. Two phenomena hastened this process. On the one hand, the advent of the alphabetici, who, for the sake of making their books usable, purposely abandoned the systematic track and at an early period sought the Ariadne-thread for the labyrinth of their articles in the a b c; and on the other hand the revival of the philosophical tendency that marks the second half of the eighteenth century. When the alphabetici cast the systematic method overboard, it was natural for others to fish it up. And when the philosophical tendency everywhere went, by way of the trunk, down to the root, the duty lay at hand of finding a principle according to which the sciences themselves might be divided. For a long time the remembrance of the word Encyclopedia was altogether lost. Used to a material encyclopedia, men thought that the encyclopedic domain was abandoned as soon as they withdrew from the bazaar for the sake of the exclusive study of the invoice of the goods on hand. The reallexicographers, who had abandoned the Encyclopedic idea, were reputed the only persons still entitled to the name of Encyclopedists, while the actual Encyclopedists, who gave themselves to the study of the organism of the sciences, did not dream of taking possession of their title.

Johann August Ernesti wrote under the title of Initia doctrinae solidioris (1736), and his friend J. M. Gessner treated his subject as Primae lineae isagoges in eruditionem imiversalem (1745), thus furnishing actual encyclopedia without a single thought about the name of Encyclopedia. In his Kurzer Inbegriff alter Wissenschaften (1756), which is followed in the main by Reimarus, Kliigel, Busch and Buhle, Sulzer and his followers no doubt furnished some system, but with a brief resume of the content for every department of science. With them formal Encyclopedia obtained no independent position as it did with Ernesti and Gessner. Even Eschenburg, who in his Lehrbuch der Wissenschaftskunde, 1792, embodied Kant's idea, as well as his followers Hefter, Burdach and Kraus, continued to look upon the formal as the frame in which the material was arranged; and it is only in Erhard Schmid's Grundriss der allgemeinen Encyclopaedie und Methodologie (1810), in Schaller's Encyclopaedic und Methodologie der Wissenschaften (1812), and partly in liische's Architectonik der Wissenschaften (1816), that the suggestion of Ernesti and Gessner is worked out, and the consciousness returns that this study of science as science is Encyclopedia in its real sense.

§ 10. Victory of the Organic Idea

And yet these men only stood in the vestibule; Johann Gottlieb Fichte was the first to unlock the temple itself by his treatises on Die Bestimmung des Gelehrten (1794) and Das Wesen des Gelehrten (1806); but especially by his numerous monographs on the Wissenschaftslehre, which after 1804 he prepared for his classes in Berlin and which later he explained and defended. This does not mean that in these studies Fichte gave us a true Encyclopedia. On the contrary, in his Wissenschaftslehre no trace of this can be found. But Fichte marked knowing itself as the object of an independent science; and thus quickened the dim consciousness that the encyclopedic insight into the organism of the sciences was not merely an auxiliary aid by which to create order in the chaos, nor simply tended to satisfy the systematic inclination and longing after order that is active in the man of science, but that the insight into the nature and into the organic relation of the sciences is an aim which must be striven after per se as an indispensable part of our knowledge. "Das Wissen vom Wisse^' as Fichte preferred to call it, is the root from which all fundamental Encyclopedia germinates. By this watchword the truth had come to light that the "knowledge" of man forms a world by itself; that without unity of principle this world of our knowledge remains unintelligible; and that the necessary relation between (1) man who knows, (2) knowledge as such, and (3) the known, or the thus far acquired science, must be explained organically from this one principle. Only when this was perceived with some measure of clearness was the science of Encyclopedia born. Not that this is the only science that is called to solve the problem in all its parts. One only of these three parts is its appointed task. The Wissensckaftslehre has knowledge (Wissen) itself for its object; Logic takes knowing man as its object of investigation; and Encyclopedia confines itself to the investigation of science as an independent whole. But it is only by Fichte's radical formulations in the domain of the Wissenschaftslehre that the independent character of Encyclopedia entered into the sense of our times. Now, indeed, it was felt that the unit of science formed a well-rounded whole; that an inwardly impelling power determined the circumference of its circle; and that the place for each of its parts is assigned by the character of its organism. From technic, which it had thus far been, Encyclopedia was changed into a philosophical conception; and when animated by this thought Schelling published his Vbrlesungen iiber die Methode des Academi&chen Studiums, and Tittmann and Beneke in like manner displaced the mechanical interpretation of the study by the organic, the process but awaited the intellectual powers of a Hegel to give us the first encyclopedia in the higher sense, if not of all, at least of philosophical, science.

§ 11. The Break in the Process

This very advent of Encyclopedia, as a philosophical science which has science itself for its object, rendered the execution of an Encyclopedia of general science provisionally impossible, and necessitated seeking the development of this new-born science first in the domain of the special sciences. Here also progress was to be made from the special to the general. Thus the second half especially of this century has witnessed the publication of a considerable number of special Encyclopedias, which as a rule have followed the division of the great field of science into a theological, philological, juridical, medical and physical science. Two factors have cooperated to further the course of this process. First the difficulty presented itself that he only who himself was well versed in a science is able to write its Encyclopedia with any hope of success, and that in view of the vast expanse of detailed knowledge and literature required for every special science, it becomes more and more inconceivable that one man should be able to command this sufficient knowledge of all the departments of science. However much, therefore, Encyclopedia is also an undoubted part of philosophical science, yet it is entirely impossible that one philosopher should be able to manipulate all the material for the science of Encyclopedia. No other course, therefore, was open but the one by which Theological Encyclopedia is developed by theologians, Historical by historians, Medical by physicians, etc., i.e. by each one for his own department; and only when each of these separate Encyclopedias has reached sufficient development can the man arise who may unite the results of these subdivisions into one philosophical whole. And on the other hand, the writing of an Encyclopedia has scarcely ever been undertaken without the practical aim of introducing students of a given faculty into their science. A certain Kvkxos is necessary for every Encyclopedia, and this was given in the historical division of the faculties. Because of the subdivision of its task, the Philosophical faculty alone has departed from this, and has divided itself into philosophical, philological, historical and natural philosophy groups; and where the natural philosophy and literary faculties are also divided as faculties, as they are in the Netherlands, distinction has still further been made between the philological and philosophical task of the latter. This course of Encyclopedical study has an undeniable disadvantage. In the first place, a jurist, theologian, physician or philologian may readily fall short of philosophical unity and power of thought. Secondly, instead of the principle of science itself, the historical division of the faculties has become the motive of the division. Thirdly, the practical purpose has tempted more frequently to the production of a convenient manual than to the writing of a scientific Encyclopedia. And fourthly (an evil indicated already by Fichte and Griiber), the former custom of introducing the students into the universitas scientiarum too, as well as into their own department, has been more and more neglected. The academy has become an agglomerate of faculty-schools, and the university idea in its later interpretation has lost something of its inner truth.

§ 12. Provisional Result

This review of the development of the Encyclopedic idea, in connection with the history of the name of Encyclopedia, yields the following result. The Encyclopedic idea sprang from the dim consciousness that the knowledge at our service can be made the subject of thought, which study brings about the classification of its material into groups. This dim consciousness found at first only a practical expression, which is evident from the choice of the name iyKvKXio<;, and from the distinction that was made between a higher and lower, a holy or profane, group of knowledge. Then the body, or aa>fia, of this knowledge was objectified in large compendia, which collected all disposable knowledge and so presented it as a unity. The classification in these compendia was at first entirely arbitrary or accidental, till gradually the need made itself felt of introducing system into this arrangement. This systematizing became ever more difficult as the material to be arranged constantly grew in volume, till finally the two motives parted company, and the material was arranged on the one hand alphabetically, exclusive of all system, while on the other hand the arrangement and the relation were studied independently. This latter study was provisionally almost exclusively technical, till Fichte gave the impetus to postulate the investigation of the organic system of all science itself as a necessary and independent science. The misunderstanding presented itself here, for a while, that the name of Encyclopedia was held by those who, in the collection of the material, sacrificed every Encyclopedic idea; while the students of true Encyclopedia allowed the name to be lost. But during the last decennials, Encyclopedia, as name also, has returned to its proper study, and the Real-Lexica as compendiums of the material and the Encyclopedias as studies of the organic relation of this material, separate. Provisionally these Encyclopedic studies, in the narrower sense, are still of a more special character; and only when tbese special studies shall have reached a restingpoint where they can take each other by the hand, will the time come in which general Encyclopedia can again be successfully studied.