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SystemThe Shaping of Modern Knowledge$
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Clifford Siskin

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780262035316

Published to MIT Press Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7551/mitpress/9780262035316.001.0001

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Disciplinarity (Embedded and Specialized Systems)

Disciplinarity (Embedded and Specialized Systems)

(p.121) 4 Disciplinarity (Embedded and Specialized Systems)

Clifford Siskin

The MIT Press

During the final decades of the eighteenth century, Enlightenment efforts at comprehensive mastery gave way to different uses of system—to delimited and dedicated systems and to the dispersing of systems into other forms, including the specialized essays of the modern disciplines. Their “travel” filled the world in new ways. This transition highlights our differences from Enlightenment. For Smith, who based his master SYSTEMS on “sentiments” as probable behaviors, true knowledge was useful knowledge that worked in the world to change that world. For us knowledge is knowledge because it is true. The end-of-century proliferation of systems and of print made inclusive master SYSTEMS unsustainable. Late eighteenth-century Britain is a laboratory for studying the consequences of this proliferation: instead of becoming parts of master SYSTEMS, systems were inserted into other forms. This shifted the organization of knowledge from every kind being a branch of philosophy, moral or natural, into the specialized and professionalized disciplines of modernity. This “travel” of system into other forms—embedded systems—was exemplified by Mathus’s Population “essay,” and in works, also published in 1798, by William Wordsworth and Mary Hays. Systems embedded in other forms and stretched to accommodate more things meant system proliferated into every aspect of everyday life.

Keywords:   Adam Smith, Disciplinarity, Probability, Moral sentiments, Proliferation of print, Organization of knowledge, Specialization, Professionalism, Robert Malthus, Mary Hays

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