Published online by Cambridge University Press: 22 September 2009
“It is evident,” Adam Smith wrote in the second section of his “History of Astronomy,”
that the mind takes pleasure in observing the resemblances that are discoverable betwixt different objects. It is by means of such observations that it endeavours to arrange and methodise all its ideas, and to reduce them into proper classes and assortments. Where we can observe but one single quality, that is common to a great variety of otherwise widely different objects, that single circumstance will be sufficient for it to connect them all together, to reduce them to one common class, and to call them by one general name.
The epistemological, linguistic, and historiographic endeavors of the Scottish Enlightenment pursued what we may construe as syntactic questions: they investigated the nature and texture of connections between fields of inquiry which together contributed to the totality of the “Science of Man.” Dugald Stewart would retrospectively describe the “utility” of the “philosophy of the human mind” as lying in the “mutual connexion between the different arts and sciences”; he drew the pedagogical conclusion that “the human mind in its highest state of cultivation” would be the product of a general nurturing of all the faculties, rather than the contracted “pedantry of a particular profession.” In this chapter I shall consider the complete imbrication of this project with the problematics of empiricism, and the Science of Man's heroic failure totally to subdue the proliferation of information to a connected grand narrative with recognizable public value.