Tag

philosophy

Browsing

A l’évocation de la notion d’« Encyclopédie », c’est vers Diderot et son œuvre magistrale que se dirige d’emblée notre pensée. Seulement, cet encyclopédisme que l’on attribue à Diderot n’est pas né au XVIII è siècle.

Ce concept est le fruit d’un très ancien héritage : l’« εγκυκλιος παιδεια » qui définit un système d’éducation grec embrassant toutes formes de savoir. Ce concept encyclopédique, associé au IV è siècle à l’éducation du jeune grec, est ainsi véritablement ancré dans la pensée antique. Il évolue cependant sous l’influence des écoles philosophiques, notamment de celle d’Aristote dont la tradition d’enseignement marque la naissance d’une forme de courant encyclopédique.

En effet, la philosophie péripatéticienne comprend trois grands domaines d’investigation qui comprennent l’éthique, la logique et la physique. D’emblée, l’association de ces différents domaines de recherche dénote d’un appétit de savoir grandissant, d’un véritable mouvement d’intellectualisation dans le domaine de la connaissance.

Dans la continuité de ce cheminement engendré par la philosophie, la période hellénistique témoigne d’un intense bouillonnement intellectuel et culturel. C’est ainsi que dans les villes de Pergame, de Rhodes ou encore d’Alexandrie dont l’immense bibliothèque illustre cet intérêt pour la connaissance, le foisonnement scientifique est remarquable. Les travaux des érudits venus de tout le monde hellénistique se multiplient et donnent ainsi lieu à des publications de grands textes de savoir qui marquent une étape dans l’évolution de ce courant encyclopédiste.

Quant à Rome, c’est à partir du premier siècle de notre ère que la littérature scientifique se développe, fruit de l’héritage de Caton l’Ancien ou de Varron, célèbres pour leurs compilations de faits pratiques : le De Agricultura de Caton constitue une encyclopédie pratique destinée à son fils qui recense tous les éléments importants concernant l’agriculture tandis que le De Lingua Latina constitue la première grammaire latine connue. La publication de ces ouvrages représente les fondements de cette tradition encyclopédique à Rome.

Elle évolue une nouvelle fois avec Lucrèce qui au premier siècle avant notre ère est le premier à écrire un traité scientifique sous forme poétique en latin : De Natura Rerum.

A partir du premier siècle, l’écriture de textes scientifiques en prose se fait beaucoup plus importante et jouit d’une plus large diffusion. Dans de nombreux domaines, ces écrits scientifiques apparaissent : Vitruve écrit son De Architectura, traité d’architecture, Celse publie le De Medicina et Sénèque compose les Naturales Quaestiones. Aussi, l’ouvrage de Pline l’Ancien intitulé Naturalis Historiae reste le plus représentatif de cette tradition encyclopédiste. Au regard de tous ces textes qui présentent, malgré leur caractère scientifique commun, de grandes différences, on pourrait s’interroger sur les caractéristiques qui définissent l’encyclopédisme à Rome.

Pour envisager cette question, nous déclinerons cette étude en trois mouvements : le premier sera consacré à la méthode de composition utilisée par les encyclopédistes. Puis, nous considèrerons l’écriture à deux niveaux de ces traités scientifiques : érudition et accessibilité. Enfin, nous nous interrogerons sur la valeur scientifique de ces écrits.

1. Méthode de composition utilisée par les encyclopédistes

L’encyclopédisme romain se caractérise par une méthode de recherche et d’écriture bien particulière. J-Y. Guillaumin, dans son article qui concerne les écrits des agrimensores romains (« L’écriture scientifique des agrimensores romains ») mentionne que l’encyclopédisme consiste à « synthétiser et systématiser par écrit des savoirs techniques et des pratiques acquises ». A cet égard, le passage à l’écrit est déterminant. Il correspond à une nécessité de structuration des savoirs dont la transmission se faisait sans doute par oral.

Ainsi, les écrits de savoir romains constituent une synthèse, un véritable recueil écrit de tout ce qui est connu jusqu’alors concernant un sujet donné. Pline l’Ancien dans la préface de son ouvrage Naturalis Historiae rend bien compte de cette volonté de synthétiser et d’organiser des informations recueillies dans bon nombre d’ouvrages différents : « 20.000 faits dignes d’intérêt […] tirés de la lecture d’environ 2.000 volumes, dont un très petit nombre est pratiqué par les savants vu l’obscurité de la matière, et provenant de de 100 auteurs de choix, ont été renfermés en trente-six livres, avec l’addition d’une foule de faits ignorés de nos prédécesseurs ou découverts ultérieurement par les hommes. ». Cette phrase constitue un précieux témoignage de l’ardeur des auteurs encyclopédistes latins et de la méthode qu’ils utilisent pour écrire leurs ouvrages.

Le neveu de l’auteur de l’Histoire Naturelle, Pline le Jeune, décrit alors dans l’une de ses lettres le goût et l’opiniâtreté de son oncle pour l’étude : « Alors c’était une nouvelle journée de travail jusqu’au repas du soir. Pendant ce repas, il y avait lecture, avec annotation, le tout avec hâte ». Ainsi, Pline, comme la plupart des auteurs encyclopédistes, consacre son temps à l’étude et recueille les thèses de différents auteurs, fruits de ses lectures qu’il compile dans un seul ouvrage. La table des matières de l’Histoire Naturelle est à cet égard vraiment probante puisqu’elle fait mention, nom par nom, de tous les auteurs que Pline l’Ancien a consultés pour l’écriture de chacun de ses chapitres. Cette synthèse de différentes doctrines d’auteurs plus anciens définit la technique de la doxographie à laquelle ont recours les encyclopédistes.

Ainsi, on trouve chez ces auteurs les doctrines de tous les auteurs qui ont traité d’un sujet donné : « maintenant, je me réfère à l’opinion de Posidonios », écrit Sénèque, dans les Naturales Quaestiones. Par conséquent, il apparaît nettement que l’on accorde davantage de crédit à l’argument d’autorité qu’au témoin oculaire, ainsi que le montre cet extrait des Quaestiones naturales de Sénèque: « Je vous ai dit ci-dessus, […] que bon nombre d’auteurs admettent cette cause. C’est aussi l’opinion de Callisthène, homme d’un haut mérite, d’un esprit élevé ». C’est ainsi qu’on peut expliquer le recours à l’écriture doxographique qui rapporte l’avis des plus sages. De la même façon, il n’est pas rare de rencontrer des fragments d’autres textes : des vers de Virgile, des phrases de Démocrite. Sénèque, dans ses Questions Naturelles, cite par exemple un vers des Métamorphoses d’Ovide quand il évoque les couleurs. De récentes études tendent même à montrer qu’un fragment de Thalès se trouve dans ce même ouvrage de Sénèque.

Ainsi, une quantité phénoménale de sujets sont traités dans ces ouvrages scientifiques. Pline étend alors son domaine de recherche à la météorologie ou à l’histoire de l’art, et présente de la même façon un bestiaire pour le moins surprenant dans sa partie consacrée à la zoologie. La variété des sujets traités est telle que le premier livre de cette Histoire Naturelle en trente-six volumes constitue un sommaire qui présente tous les domaines traités. Cette table des matières est la première de la littérature et correspond à une véritable nécessité : « Le bien public exigeant que j’épargne votre temps, j’ai ajouté à cette lettre la table de chacun des livres; et tout mon soin a été de la faire tellement exacte que vous n’eussiez pas à les lire ». La forme alors paraître abrupte à un lecteur plus moderne qui a l’impression d’être confronté à un véritable « catalogue ». Pline consacre l’un de ses chapitres aux hauts-faits réalisés par des hommes : certains noms sont très connus, d’autres sont mentionnés pour la première et la dernière fois dans toute la littérature antique. Ce passage illustre parfaitement l’encyclopédisme quant à son aspect de catalogue.

De cette façon, la méthode encyclopédique constitue, par son caractère doxographique et sa variété et sa précision quant aux sujets abordés une synthèse de savoirs, tous très différents les uns des autres et se présente ainsi comme une littérature tout à fait singulière.

Some of Larry’s proverbs, sent to me via email last week :

  1. A day without sunshine is like night.
  2. On the other hand, you have different fingers.
  3. 42.7 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.
  4. Remember, half the people you know are below average.
  5. He who laughs last, thinks slowest.
  6. Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.
  7. The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese in the trap.
  8. Support bacteria. They’re the only culture most people have.
  9. A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
  10. Change is inevitable, except from vending machines.
  11. If you think nobody cares, try missing a couple of payments.
  12. How many of you believe in psycho-kinesis? Raise my hand.
  13. When everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.
  14. Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now.
  15. How much deeper would the ocean be without sponges?
  16. Eagles may soar, but weasels don’t get sucked into jet engines.
  17. What happens if you get scared half to death, twice?
  18. Why do psychics have to ask you your name?
  19. Inside every older person is a younger person wondering, ‘What the heck happened?’
  20. Light travels faster than sound. That’s why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

Ralph Waldo EMERSON

Emerson’s literary and philosophical importance in the American renaissance and after it has always been associated with his lasting influence in two domains of American intellectual and social life:

  • The emergence of an America romantic sensibility.
  • The emergence of a characteristically American conception of individual consciousness and actions.

For the first time in America, Emerson gave full expression to a philosophy of romantic idealism. He thought that the spiritual and intellectual ideals of the 18th century, the principles of the Age of Reason, had ended in sterility. Emerson’s ethic of self-reliance represents the necessity for the individual to question most of all forms of social conventions and to refuse his ideas by the accepted standards and values of society. Also, it represents the necessity for the individual to think and act according to his standards.

But this self-reliance can also be interpreted as moral relativism and as a certain cult of individualistic power. Indeed, Emerson’s philosophy does reflect a certain fascination with power. Very often, he seems to be too enthusiastic about all manifestations of energy, personal force and superior vitality: "power first. In politics and in trade, pirates are of better promise than talkers and clerks": it’s a philosophy of action. Such ambivalent affirmations show a great deal of the liberating potential of Emerson’s philosophy but evidently, they also hide a dangerously anarchistic potential that can not be denied.

Henry David THOREAU

Is the spiritual son of Emerson: he did what Emerson said and tried to act according to the philosophy of self-reliance. One of the most important observations that can be made about Thoreau’s life as a man and as an artist is that he considered freedom as the highest ideal of society. His life as a writer and as a thinker was dedicated to the freedom of trying new ideals and new experiences. Also, freedom for Thoreau meant the possibility for the individual to discover himself and to live his life against social conventions. In order to accomplish his ideal of freedom, Thoreau went to live at Walden Pond in 1845. This decision was essentially determined by three tendencies in Thoreau’s personality:

  • As a man, he wanted to explore and discover new aspects of his own personality.
  • As an intellectual, he wanted to experiment with a new form of life different from life in an organized complex capitalistic society.
  • As a writer, he wanted to explore and experiment with his own writing. In this respect, Thoreau’s experience marks the beginning of the essay as lived experience.

Concerning Thoreau’s experience as a writer, his poetry and prose reflect the work of a very careful artist: great deal of attention to the nuances of the language. It may appear spontaneous, even like conversation but it is not. His prose is carefully studied. He’s always addressing the reader.

Walden is representative of Thoreau’s style. It is quite artful and elaborate. Yet, it appears to be artistically modest. The ideals are complex and sophisticated. Yet, it appears to be simple. Simplicity in Thoreau’s is not just a literary characteristic of Walden, which also incarnates the ideal of an intellectual who wants to limit life to the simplest activities. Thoreau came to Walden Pond in order to make a fresh start, to see intellectual and natural experience directly. He did not look for inspiration in books but in Nature. He established a real tradition of individualism: life in Nature is by necessity a separation from society and its conventions. Consequently, the writer’s position outside society becomes the best place to observe society and its institutions with critical eyes.

Through this return to Nature, Thoreau wants to move away from the regulations of a materialistic and instrumental society. He wants to reorganize his life according to his own philosophy. At the beginning of the essay, Thoreau uses ironic expressions for his new experience: "a private business". To call this escape from the materialism of society a "business" is irony and Walden becomes the story of this escape. It reminds us of Zen Buddhism or Hindu mysticism: his life in nature seems to be a form of sacrifice in order to reach a higher transcendent state of being. Even when Thoreau describes himself building his cabin, we have the impression that the business of building is also a religious ceremony of purification and renewal. Therefore, Thoreau belongs to the American tradition of renewal, a sort of symbolic baptism of the individual through an escape to nature.

Nathaniel HAWTHORNE

Is much more pessimistic about human nature: he didn’t believe in a new beginning: to him, the past comes back to haunt the present. He wrote short stories and novels with a complex and disturbing aspect of American life. His literary imagination was strongly influenced by his early life in Salem (Massachusetts) where he was born. The history of Salem and American Puritanism presented the context in which he developed his ideas about human nature and the ambivalent nature of human psychology, and about sin and guilt, the dangers of the intellect and the risks of passion.

Later, when he lived in Concord (Massachusetts), Hawthorne dedicated his efforts to sketches and short stories, called "allegories of the heart". His novels are "romances". In both short stories and novels, Hawthorne was excellent at describing the complexities and ambiguities of human psychology. According to Hawthorne, human mind is determined by a division between sensuality & repression of the sensuality, between conformity & individualism. It is also the scene of a dialectical conflict between good and evil. His fictions represent the co-existence of contradictory forces on the individual. Hawthorne is a romantic author whose short stories and novels are marked by a concern with the American past with the role of the creative artist in a materialistic society. He insisted on the importance of human emotions and imagination, and on the dangers of cold intellect.

Henry James and Edgar Allan Poe criticized Hawthorne for being too allegorical in his style. Hawthorne himself admitted that his allegorical style is vague and not easy to understand: "I am not quite sure that I entirely comprehend my own meaning in these blasted allegories". In his "allegories of the heart", Hawthorne uses symbols in order to represent the narrow separation between good and evil in the human mind. Through his allegorical technique, he shows that humankind can never solve the mysteries and the ambiguities of a divided human psychology. Hawthorne’s moral and religious concerns are central to his literary symbolism. His most representative symbols were derived from puritan history of New England. He developed his themes about good and evil around the historical events and the personalities that influenced New England culture and society.

Walt WHITMAN

Along with Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman stands in the literary history of America as the poet who has generated the most dramatic and lasting transformations in American poetry and in the function of the American poet. Indeed, Whitman redefined poetry and the role of the poet in, at least, two important ways:

  • In terms of aesthetic practice
  • In terms of the social position of the poet as an active participant in a democratic society

As far as his aesthetic practice is concerned, Whitman considered the poet essentially as an experimental artist first and foremost: the poet’s function is to create both new forms and new themes for poetry. The poet must re-create a literary tradition: conventions were out. In Whitman’s dynamic and revolutionary conception of poetry, there are 2 important consequences:

  1. Rhyme would not matter: would have no importance at all.
  2. Uniformity in the structure of stanzas should be abandoned.

Concerning the thematic content of a new poetry, Whitman also expressed his opinion quite clearly. The new American poet would avoid sentimental poetry and simplistic moralization: he is no longer a moral teacher. Also, exaggeration in style and in subject would be replaced by realistic descriptions of life and its impressions. Whitman would abandon any sentimental idealism.

As far as his intellectual influence is concerned, he believed reading literary texts should not be limited to an elite of intellectuals. Whitman thought it was possible to include the people in the experience of literature. He wanted to make of literature a popular art: the poet can come to play an important role in exalting the people. Through his capacity to sing (= to exalt) and encourage the people, the poet also indicates the way to collective self-realization and self-realization for each individual. Whitman therefore believed that literature, as an instrument of communication, was also a democratic instrument. With Whitman, we realize that his analysis of democratic society can not be separated from his conception of poetry. This relationship is reflected in the poem Song of Myself. According to Whitman, Song of Myself depends on the creative participation of each reader. It is in this context that he defines the great poet as a bridge between the reader and society at large. It is this definition of the poet that he affirmed in the opening lines of Song of Myself:

"I celebrate myself and sing myself
And what I assume you shall assume".

Sommaire de la série History of American Literature

  1. An authentically American Literature
  2. Puritanism : a New World Vision
  3. Declaration of Literary Independence
  4. The American Renaissance
  5. Modernism

1. I can see your point, but I still think you’re full of shit.

2. I don’t know what your problem is, but I’ll bet it’s hard to pronounce.

3. How about never? Is never good for you?

4. I see you’ve set aside this special time to humiliate yourself in public.

5. I’m really easy to get along with once you people learn to see it my way.

6. I’ll try being nicer if you’ll try being smarter.

7. I’m out of my mind, but feel free to leave a message…

8. I don’t work here. I’m a consultant.

9. It sounds like English, but I can’t understand a word you’re saying.

10. Ahhh… I see the screw-up fairy has visited us again…

11. I like you. You remind me of when I was young and stupid.

12. You are validating my inherent mistrust of strangers.

13. I have plenty of talent and vision. I just don’t give a damn.

14. I’m already visualizing the duct tape over your mouth.

15. I will always cherish the initial misconceptions I had about you.

16. Thank you. We’re all refreshed and challenged by your unique point of view.

17. The fact that no one understands you doesn’t mean you’re an artist.

18. Any connection between your reality and mine is purely coincidental.

19. What am I? Flypaper for freaks!?

20. I’m not being rude. You’re just insignificant.

21. It’s a thankless job, but I’ve got a lot of Karma to burn off.

22. Yes, I am an agent of Satan, but my duties are largely ceremonial.

23. And your crybaby whiny-butt opinion would be…?

24. Do I look like a people person?

25. This isn’t an office. It’s Hell with fluorescent lighting.

26. I started out with nothing & still have most of it left.

27. Sarcasm is just one more service we offer.

28. If I throw a stick, will you leave?

29. Errors have been made. Others will be blamed.

30. Whatever kind of look you were going for, you missed.

31. I’m trying to imagine you with a personality.

32. A cubicle is just a padded cell without a door.

33. Can I trade this job for what’s behind door #1?

34. Too many freaks, not enough circuses.

35. Nice perfume. Must you marinate in it?

36. Chaos, panic and disorder – my work here is done.

37. How do I set a laser printer to stun?

38. I thought I wanted a career, turns out I just wanted paychecks.

39. I’m really easy to get along with once you people learn to worship me.

40. You assign me one more action item and I’m going to show you why I play with those WWF figurines…

41. Who me? I just wander from room to room.

42. Does your train of thought have a caboose?

43. Imagine this; I will win and you will lose. Do we need to go on?

44. I see that this is the collection point for the freaks and weirdoes.

45. You! Off my planet!

46. The less you bother me, the sooner we’ll get results.

47. Of course I don’t look busy…I did it right the first time!

48. Who says nothing is impossible. I’ve been doing nothing for years.

49. The world is full of willing people. Some willing to work, the rest willing to let them.

50. You can have it right or you can have it now, but you can’t have it right now.

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: