On Systems and Embodiments as Categories for Intellectual History

History and Theory 27 (1):30-50 (1988)

In response to the unsettled state of modern intellectual history, a model is offered for categorizing its subject matter. Two challenges to intellectual history are first examined: the relation of intellectual to social history and the relation of intellectual history to other disciplines which purport to deal with thought. The model proposed breaks down the "ideas" of intellectual historians into two sorts: 1) systems, complex bodies of thought related in a coherent fashion; and 2) embodiments, a way of fixating or condensing a complex of meanings into a single expression. Each entails a distinct mode of communication, the former by processes of education or socialization, the latter by single symbols or slogans. The distinction between systems and embodiments is clarified by comparison to the abstract-concrete and the discursive-mythical thought distinctions. The "ideas" of intellectual history should ideally include both systems and embodiments as their components, as in the case of the Lutheran Reformation and the French Revolution. By showing their relation to other disciplines, these distinctions can be seen to demarcate the space in which intellectual history can operate
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DOI 10.2307/2504960
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