The System of the World
This chapter argues that we should look to the late seventeenth-century upsurge in the number and ambition of the new genre of the system: “System was the formal means to Enlightenment's end: comprehensive knowledge of a world that could be known—of parts that formed a whole.” Newton demonstrated the “system of the world” that is nature through the use of induction, simplicity, and mathematical proof. Adam Smith then capitalized on Newton's success by launching the project called the Scottish Enlightenment as a remediation: the systematizing of “English philosophy,” including Newton. But as systems proliferate and efforts to produce “master systems” that incorporate all systems flounder, the genre is increasingly embedded into other forms. The result is a turn toward more specialized and localized knowledge and practices in writers such as William Wordsworth and Walter Scott. These new practices issue in the narrow but deep knowledge strategies of the modern disciplines.
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