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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
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PREFACE
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vii

PREFACE

Artists, writers, and scientists do not hesitate in their
creative efforts and researches to borrow ideas outside
their own special fields whenever their themes reach
beyond established forms, styles, or traditional methods.
The languages of the arts will often show the impact
of literary themes, scientific discoveries, economic
conditions, and political change. The physical, biologi-
cal, psychological, and social sciences have branched
out from ancient mythical and metaphysical ideas of
nature and man, and in their historical development
have utilized the results of analyses and experimental
methods that have emerged from the cross-fertilization
of tested ideas and methods. This outward reaching of
the mind motivates the historian of ideas to explore the
pivotal clues to man's artistic and scientific achieve-
ments in diverse fields. While respecting the integrity
and need for specialized departments of learning, the
historian of ideas makes his particular contribution to
knowledge by tracing the cultural roots and historical
ramifications of the major and minor specialized con-
cerns of the mind.

The editors have invited contributions from scholars
of many countries, especially those scholars who have
shown a particular awareness of the cultural and his-
torical affiliations of their respective disciplines with
other allied fields. Departmental and national bound-
aries have thus been crossed in the cooperative ex-
change of ideas and cultural perspectives among editors
and contributors.

We cannot emphasize too strongly the point ex-
pressed in the subtitle of our work, that we are pre-
senting a varied array of selected pivotal topics in
intellectual history and of methods of writing about
such topics. Although the number of topics discussed
is large, we do not pretend that these volumes represent
the entire range of intellectual history. To attempt a
complete history of ideas would be to attempt (of
course, in vain) to exhaust the history of the human
mind; hence, the limited number of topics dealt with,
and even these contain lacunae which we hope will
encourage further studies. Students of the history of
ideas should profit from the substance and methods of
interpretation contained in the scholarship of our con-
tributors, and in future research the cross-references,
bibliographies, and index should be valuable aids.

The topics chosen are intended to exhibit the in-
triguing variety of ways in which ideas in one domain
tend to migrate into other domains. The diffusion of
these ideas may be traced in three directions: hori-
zontally across disciplines in a given cultural period,
vertically or chronologically through the ages, and “in
depth” by analysis of the internal structure of pervasive
and pivotal ideas. Internal analysis is needed if one is
to discover the component ideas that have become
elements of newer and larger thoughts or movements.
A now classic model is Arthur O. Lovejoy's historical
study and internal analysis of the Great Chain of Being
into its component 'unit-ideas” of continuity, grada-
tion, and plenitude. These unit-ideas are not descrip-
tions of the whole organic cultural and historical setting
of thought, but products of analysis, which Lovejoy
proposed as aids to the unravelling of complex ideas
and of their roles in different contexts. However, no
single method or model has been prescribed or adopted
as exclusive by either editors or contributors. We have,
therefore, studies of three different sorts: cross-cultural
studies limited to a given century or period, studies that
trace an idea from antiquity to later periods, and studies
that explicate the meaning of a pervasive idea and its
development in the minds of its leading proponents.
Minor figures cannot be neglected since they often
reflect the prevailing climate of opinion of their times.

The cross-references appended to each article have
been carefully prepared to direct the reader to related
articles in which the same or similar idea occurs within a different domain, often modified and even trans-
formed by the different context. But despite our inter-
disciplinary aim, we do not ignore the fact that de-
partments of study are established in academic and
other specialized institutions. The Dictionary will fa-
cilitate the reader's transition from the ideas familiar
to him in his special area of study to those very ideas
operative in, and transformed by, related ideas in other
fields with which he is less familiar.


viii

In some cases the same word will have entirely
distinct meanings in different disciplines, so that it is
important not to confound words with ideas; for exam-
ple, it is a sophistic confusion to draw inferences from
the theory of relativity in physics to relativism in
morals, or to impose seventeenth-century mechanical
models on organic or social phenomena. But it is
germane to the history of thought and culture to record
the historical role of such pervasive models in diverse
fields. Consequently, we did not seek to collect topics
for articles at random, but organized an analytical table
of contents into a seven-fold grouping of topics, thus
discovering important relationships which might oth-
erwise have been overlooked. The following domains
and disciplines, of course, involve unavoidable over-
lapping, but form the basic framework of the selected
topics contributed.

I. The history of ideas about the external order of
nature studied by the physical and biological sciences,
ideas also present in common usage, imaginative liter-
ature, myths about nature, metaphysical speculation.

II. The history of ideas about human nature in
anthropology, psychology, religion, and philosophy as
well as in literature and common sense.

III. The history of ideas in literature and the arts
in aesthetic theory and literary criticism.

IV. The history of ideas about or attitudes to history,
historiography, and historical criticism.

V. The historical development of economic, legal,
and political ideas and institutions, ideologies, and
movements.

VI. The history of religious and philosophical ideas.

VII. The history of formal mathematical, logical,
linguistic, and methodological ideas.

Few of the pivotal ideas presented fall squarely and
only within any one group. Even the ancillary topics
will lead outward to still other clusters of ideas. The
“Faust Theme,” for example, is an illustration of the
more general idea of “Motif” in the history of litera-
ture, but the Faust theme is itself pregnant with sym-
bolic references to the problem of evil, to the ideas of
tragedy, of macrocosm and microcosm.

Although the intensive synchronic study of any
“period” of cultural or intellectual history may reveal
the predominance of certain artistic, scientific, indus-
trial, political, religious, or philosophical ideas, there
is no a priori ranking of these groups of ideas. Nor can
it be presumed that they are all of equal importance
through all periods of cultural development viewed
diachronically. The Dictionary's emphasis on inter-
disciplinary, cross-cultural relations is not intended as
a substitute for the specialized histories of the various
disciplines, but rather serves to indicate actual and
possible interrelations.

The purpose of these studies of the historical inter-
relationships of ideas is to help establish some sense of
the unity of human thought and its cultural manifesta-
tions in a world of ever-increasing specialization and
alienation. These cumulative acquisitions of centuries
of work in the arts and sciences constitute our best
insurance against intellectual and cultural bankruptcy.
Taking stock of the ideas that have created our cultural
heritage is a prerequisite of the future growth and
flourishing of the human spirit.

The editors are indeed grateful for the cooperation
of so many scholars, including advisers and readers as
well as contributors and the staff of the publisher.
Without the unstinting aid and constant encouragement
of Mr. Charles Scribner, who initiated the idea of this
Dictionary, the project would not have come to fruition.

PHILIP P. WIENER