Leo Catana, 'The Concept "System of Philosophy": The Case of Jacob Brucker's Historiography of Philosophy'

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In this article I shall examine and discuss the concept ‘system of philosophy’ as a methodological tool in the history of philosophy. I shall do so in two moves. First I shall analyze the historical origin of the concept in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Thereafter I shall undertake a discussion of its methodological weaknesses — a discussion, which is not only relevant to the writing of history of philosophy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, but also to the writing of history of philosophy in our times, where the concept remains an important methodological tool.
My first move is to analyze Jacob Brucker’s employment of the concept in his influential history of philosophy, Historia critica philosophiae, dating from 1742-68. To Brucker, a ‘system of philosophy’ is characterized by the following four features: (a) it is autonomous in regard to other, non-philosophical disciplines; (b) all doctrines stated within the various branches of philosophy can be deduced from one principle; (c) as an autonomous system it comprises all branches of philosophy; (d) the doctrines stated within these various branches of philosophy are internally coherent. Brucker employed the concept on the entire history of philosophy, and he gave it a defining role in regard to two other methodological concepts, namely ‘eclectism’ and ‘syncretism’, which he regarded as more or less successful forms of systematic philosophy.
My second move is to point out the weakness of this concept of ‘system of philosophy’ as a methodological tool in the history of philosophy. I shall argue that the interdisciplinary nature of much pre-modern philosophy makes Brucker’s methodological concept ‘system of philosophy’ inadequate, and that we may be better off leaving it behind in our future exploration of pre-modern philosophy.

Reviews: Arielle Saiber, Renaissance quarterly, vol. 59 (2006), pp. 833-834; Dario Tessicini, Renaissance studies, vol. 21.5 (2007), pp. 724-726.
Original languageEnglish
JournalHistory and Theory
Pages (from-to)72-90
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2005

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