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  • 7/27/2019 Lovejoy Reflections


    Reflections on the History of IdeasAuthor(s): Arthur O. LovejoySource: Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Jan., 1940), pp. 3-23Published by: University of Pennsylvania PressStable URL: .

    Accessed: 31/07/2013 03:45

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  • 7/27/2019 Lovejoy Reflections




    IWhatever ther efinitionsfmanbe trueorfalse, t s generallyadmittedhathe is distinguishedmong he creatures y thehabitof entertainingeneral deas. Like Br'er Rabbithe has alwayskeptup a heap o' thinking;nd it has usuallybeen assumed-

    thoughhe ssumptionasbeennominallyisputed ysome choolsofphilosophers-thatis thoughtsaveat all timeshad a gooddealtodowithhis behavior, is institutions,ismaterial chievementsintechnologyndthe rts, ndhisfortunes.Everybranch fhis-toricalnquiry,onsequently,aybe saidto ncludewithints scopesomeportion fthehistory fideas. But as a resultofthesub-division nd specializationncreasinglyharacteristicf historicalas ofother tudies uringhe asttwocenturies,heportionsfthathistorywhich re pertinento separatehistorical isciplines ametobe treated sually n relative, hough eldom ncomplete,sola-tion. Thehistoryfpolitical vents nd socialmovements,f eco-nomic hanges, freligion, fphilosophy,f science, f literatureandtheother rts,ofeducation, avebeen nvestigatedy distinctgroupsofspecialists,many fthem ittle cquaintedwith hesub-jectsandthe researches f the others. The specialization hich-the imitationsfthe ndividualmind eingwhat hey re-had thisas its naturalconsequencewas indispensable ortheprogressofhistorical nowledge; ettheconsequence roved lso, in theend,

    I It has been thought esirablebythe Board of Editorsthatthe first umber fthis ournal should contain some prefatory bservations n the nature and aims ofthestudieswhichthe ournal is designed o promote, nd for some of thefruitsofwhich t may provide suitablevehicleofpublication. The Editorto whom he taskhas been assignedhas, however, lreadywritten omewhatengthily lsewhere n thegeneral subject (in The Great Chain of Being,1936, Lecture and in Proc. of theAmer. Philos. Soc., vol. 78, pp. 529-543), and somerepetition,n substance f not inphraseology, f theseprevious disquisitions n the same topichas beenunavoidable.Some aspectsof it,on the otherhand,whichhave been theredealtwith,have beenhere passed over, n orderto have space for commentsn certain relevantbut cur-rentlycontroverted uestions. For the opinionsexpressedon these questions thewriter loneis responsible. 3

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  • 7/27/2019 Lovejoy Reflections


    4 ARTHUR 0. LOVEJOYan impedimento suchprogress. For the departmentalization-whether y subjects,periods,nationalities, r languages-of thestudy f the history fthoughtorresponds,orthemostpart,tono real cleavages mong hephenomenatudied. The processes fthehumanmind,n the individual r thegroup,whichmanifestthemselvesnhistory,o not run n enclosed hannels orrespond-ingto theofficiallystablished ivisions f universityaculties; venwhere heseprocesses, r theirmodesof expression,r the objectsto which heyare applied,are logicallydiscriminablentofairlydistinct ypes, hey re in perpetualnterplay.And ideas are themostmigratoryhings n the world. A preconception,ategory,postulate, ialecticalmotive, regnantmetaphor r analogy, sacredword," moodofthought,r explicit octrine, hichmakes ts firstappearance upon the scene in one of the conventionallyistin-guishedprovinces fhistory mostoften, erhaps,n philosophy)may, nd frequentlyoes,cross over nto a dozen others. To beacquainted nlywith tsmanifestationn one ofthese s, inmanycases, to understand ts natureand affinities,ts inner ogic andpsychologicalperation,o inadequatelyhateventhatmanifesta-tionremainsopaque and unintelligible.All historians-even,ntheir ctualpractice, hose whoin theory isclaim ny suchpre-tension-seek n some sense and to somedegreeto discern ausalrelations etweenvents;butthere s, unhappily, o law of naturewhich pecifieshat ll,or eventhemost mportant,ntecedentsfa givenhistoricffect,r all or themostmportantonsequentsfagiven cause,will lie within ny one of theacceptedsubdivisionsofhistory. In so far as the endeavor o tracesuchrelations topsat theboundaries f one or anotherof thesedivisions, here salways highprobabilityhat omeofthemost ignificant-thats,themost lluminatingnd explanatory-relations ill be missed.It has even ometimesappened hat conceptionfmajor historicinfluencend importance as long gone unrecognized,ecause itsvarious manifestations,hepartswhichmakeup the wholestory,are so widelydispersed mongdifferentields fhistorical tudy,thatno specialistnanyone ofthesefields ecamedistinctlywareof tatall. Historiography,nshort, or xcellentractical easons,is divided,but the historicprocessis not; and thisdiscrepancybetween heprocedurend thesubject-matteras tended, t best,toproduce erious acunae nthestudy fthehistory fman, ndatworst, heer rrors nd distortions.

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  • 7/27/2019 Lovejoy Reflections


    REFLECTIONS ON THE HISTORY OF IDEAS 5Of such considerationss these, cholars n manybranches fhistoricalnquiry ave nrecent earsbecome ncreasinglyensible.None, ertainly,uestions he ndispensabilityf specialization; ut

    more ndmorehavecometo see thatspecializations notenough.In practice hissometimesmanifeststself n a crossing-overfindividual pecialistsntoother ields han hose owhich heyhadoriginallyevotedhemselvesndforwhich hey avebeentrained.Administrativefficersf educationalnstitutions ave sometimesbeenknownocomplain, ith certain uzzlement,fteachersndinvestigators ho willnot"stickto their ubjects." But in mostcases thispropensityo disregard cademicfences s not to beattributedo a wandering isposition r a coveting f neighbors'vineyards;tis,on thecontrary,sually he nevitableonsequenceoftenacityndthoroughnessn the ultivationf one'sown. For-torepeat n observation hich hepresentwriter as alreadymadeelsewhere, ith rimaryeferenceo iterary istory-'the questofa historical nderstandingven of singlepassages in literatureoften rives he tudentnto ieldswhich tfirst eemremotenoughfromhis original opicof investigation.The moreyou press intowards heheart of a narrowly oundedhistorical roblem,hemore ikelyyouare to encountern theproblemtself pressurewhich rivesyououtward eyond hosebounds." To givespecificillustrationsf this fact wouldunduly engthen heseprelusiveremarks2 exampleswill doubtless ppear in abundancen subse-quentpagesofthis ournal. It is sufficientere onote, s a highlycharacteristiceature fcontemporaryorknmany fthebranchesofhistoriographyhat re in any wayconcerned ith hethoughtsof men (and their relatedemotions,modes of expression, ndactions), hat hefencesre-not, ndeed, enerallyreaking own-but, ta hundredpecificoints, eingbrokenhrough; ndthat hereasonforthis s that, t leastat thosepoints, hefences avebeenfound o be obstacles o theproper omprehensionfwhat ies oneither ideof them.There s, unquestionably,omedanger o historicalcholarshipin this newer endency. t is thedangeralready ntimated,hatscholars oundlyrained n themethods ndwidely cquaintedwiththe literature f one limited-eventhough t be an arbitrarilylimited-fieldmayprove nadequatelyquipped orexploringther

    2 Some havebeenadduced bythewritern a paper abovementioned,roc. of theAmer. Philos. Soc., Vol. 78, pp. 532-535.

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  • 7/27/2019 Lovejoy Reflections


    6 ARTHUR 0. LOVEJOYprovinces ntowhich heyhave, nevertheless,een naturally ndlegitimatelyed bythe ntrinsiconnectionsf the ubjects hat heyare investigating.Mostcontemporaryistorians f anynationalliterature,orexample, r of science r a particular cience, ecog-nize nprinciple-though any tillrecognize oo ittle