Friday, December 17, 2010

On the Decline of Common Places

Alexander Koyré argues in his book From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1956) that it was not so much the "secularization of consciousness" nor the "discovery" of consciousness and subjectivity that are primarily responsible for the radical spiritual revolution that characterized the seventeenth century: They "are concomitants and expressions of a deeper and more fundamental process as the result of which man—as it is sometimes said—lost his place in the world, or, more correctly perhaps, lost the very world in which he was living and about which he was thinking, and had to transform and replace not only his fundamental concepts and attributes, but even the very framework of his thought" (4). The new scientific discoveries and the philosophical reflection on them led to the destruction of "the Cosmos," that is, the idea of the world as a "finite, closed, and hierarchically ordered whole" (4).

In the new intellectual world, "common places" that expressed this ordered whole, had no place any longer (no pun intended). This view took a while to "sink in," but by the late eighteenth century it was generally understood. "Commonplacing" came to mean just "placing things under general headings." For most people, however, "common place" became just a word for "trite" and "ordinary," not a useful approach to taking notes.

This will be the last time I will belabor this point.

No comments: