Theory, Culture and Society 23 (4):27-48 (2006)

Against the current background of renewed publisher interests in encyclopedias, the article examines the modern genealogy of the Encyclopedia project. The article focuses particularly on three moments: Bacon’s ‘Great Instauration’ and attempted fashioning of a ‘New Organon’, the Encylopedia of 1751 and its revolutionary-era successors, and Comte’s ‘system’ of positive philosophy. D’Alembert and Diderot’s classificatory tree, with its secularized capture of moral and political philosophy, was an attempt to improve on Bacon. Comte’s grand systematizing was an attempt to cap their efforts by being entirely ‘positive’. For this, a science of society and a social standpoint were essential. His effort to fulfill Bacon’s totalizing dream of fully scientific systematization of knowledge, was a heroic and perhaps absurd failure. But, the article argues, Comte’s critique of Diderot and d’Alembert, with respect to what he took to be the radical incoherence of their classificatory ‘tree’ of knowledge, and his more general critique of both Bacon and 18th-century ‘encyclopedism’ for holding out the possibility of an objective synthesis of knowledge, touch on ‘metaphysical’ features of the epistemic landscape that, in new forms, are still with us. Comte’s forthright articulation of the technocratic and religious dimensions of the Baconian project also illuminates elements of the Enlightenment and derivatives from it that have not received sufficient attention, particularly in relation to one another.
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DOI 10.1177/0263276406065112
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After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory.Samuel Scheffler - 1983 - Philosophical Review 92 (3):443.

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