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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
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7 occurrences of Dictionary_of_the_History_of_Ideas
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The last two hundred years have witnessed a sharp-
ened interest in what causes men to do, believe, create,
or destroy, and under what circumstances and influ-
ences; what has helped to sustain or threaten the pres-
ervation of their ideas, norms, values, symbols, manners
and customs, institutions and artifacts; what degree
of balance or tension has attended contemporaneous
social configurations, or their chronological trans-
formation through time (the “synchronic” and “dia-
chronic” mode of culture in anthropological termi-
nology). This growing preoccupation has been the
cause and the symptom of what is meant by the histor-
ical and cultural self-consciousness of modern times.
The chief practitioners in this search have been a
hybrid species of historians cum philosophers, though
some, M. J. de Condorcet, Auguste Comte, or Karl
Marx, for example, might have preferred being thought
of as social scientists. Frequently these thinkers were
also social critics, no less eager to bring about change
in the future than they were to trace it in the past.
But notwithstanding divergences in orientation or
method, they all derived inspiration from, or reacted
to the challenge of the advances made in the physical
sciences. The idea that the emergence, perpetuation,
and development of human events were phenomena
susceptible to discoverable principles was never far
from their minds, even when they emphatically insisted
that these principles were sui generis and attainable
by methods radically different from those of the physi-
cal sciences.

Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), was one who indeed
boldly declared that the cultural world of man, since
it was created by man, was more likely to yield its
secrets to human inquiry than the world of nature
which only God, the sole creator of that world, can
know with certainty. Explicitly or implicitly, this basic
premiss of Vico's New Science (Scienza nuova, 1725)
became the bedrock of subsequent speculations about
the genesis, content, and development of culture.