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»That Vast Tribe of Ideas«

Competing Concepts and Practices of Comparison in the Political and Social Thought of Eighteenth-Century Europe

Zurück zum Heft: Archiv für Begriffsgeschichte. Band 44
DOI: 10.28937/9783787336814_8
EUR 16,90

In the human sciences of eighteenth century Europe,systematic comparison playeda crucial part, generally as a method but also occasionally as a target of criticism. Particularly in the domains of political and social thought, comparison was conceptualized and practiced in sharply contested forms: philosophical, social-scientific, and rhetorical.While some of the meanings now carried by the concept of comparison in the human sciences coincide with what was understood by it in the eighteenth century, others do not. This paper discusses such competing concepts and practices of comparison in Locke, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Hume, and Herder, who contested the very notion of the commensurability of human regimes and societies. Comparison turned out to be a profoundly ambiguous and controversial concept, holding in suspension a number of disparate intentions and methods.Writers could use comparative studies to accentuate differences, establish similarities, or reveal ranges of variation within the same category. Comparisons and contrasts became crucial weapons in all major eighteenth century disagreements dividing Europeans among themselves, as well as in theories of where they stood in relation to the rest of the world.