1st Edition

The Descent of Ideas The History of Intellectual History

By Donald R. Kelley Copyright 2002

    The 'history of ideas', better known these days as intellectual history, is a flourishing field of study which has been the object of much controversy but hardly any historical exploration. This major new work from Donald R. Kelley is the first comprehensive history of intellectual history, tracing the study of the history of thought from ancient, medieval and early modern times, its emergence as the 'history of ideas' in the 18th century, and its subsequent expansion. The point of departure for this study is the perspective opened up by Victor Cousin in the early 19th-century on 'Eclecticism' and its association with the history of philosophy established by Renaissance scholars. Kelley considers a broad range of topics, including the rivalry between 'ideas' and language, the rise of cultural history, the contributions of certain 19th- and 20th-century practitioners of the history of ideas in interdisciplinary areas of philosophy, literature and the sciences, and finally the current state of intellectual history. The central theme of the book is the interplay between the canon of philosophical thought and the tradition of language and textual study, the divergence of the latter marking the 'descent of ideas' into the realm of cultural history.

    Contents: Introduction: What was the history of ideas?; Prelude: The new philosophy of Victor Cousin; Eclecticism in retrospect; The 'light of philosophy' reborn; The way of ideas and the ways of words; The new eclecticism; The history of literature; The history of science; Human sciences; The history of philosophy; After the new histories; Index.


    DonaldR. Kelley

    'Donald Kelley is the undoubted dean of American intellectual historians... in this most recent work he attends to his own protean discipline, the history of ideas, and for the first time tells its story from antiquity to the present. And what a story it is!...Every reader will find something of use in this astonishing cornucopia and something to think about in contemplating the future prospects of the many intertwining disciplines that make up his subject.' Joseph M. Levine, Distinguished Professor of History, Syracuse University, USA '... wide-ranging, densely documented, and philosophically perspicuous... an illuminating study of the history of the history of ideas. Not many American scholars undertake studies of this scope, and even fewer are as good at it as Kelley.' Choice Reviews 'This book is a treasure-trove of reflections on both the nature and the practice of intellectual history, and offers a fine survey of its historical development.... there is little doubt that this is an attempt at disciplinary history with few rivals in terms of scope, ambition and execution.' History of Political Thought '... this is an immensely scholarly work, even daunting in its erudition; and it should serve as a seedbed for further research in a multitude of fields within what is now defined as intellectual and cultural history.' History 'Donald R. Kelley has written an information-rich and stimulating study which, as he writes "is a series of mappings and soundings in the large, and largely uncharted, fields of the practice and theory, ante litteram, primarily of intellectual and secondarily of cultural history".' Renaissance Quarterly '... Donald Kelley' s lucid, erudite exploration of the history of intellectual history [...] offers a nuanced and occasionally provocative intervention in contemporary debates about the history, methodologies, and practices of intellectual history... Acutely relevant to historians, Kelley's sober, cogent work deserves a much wider a