International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences
edited by David Sills
Macmillan, 17 Volumes pp., $495.00
The dangers of editing encyclopedias are not so great these days as they used to be. When Diderot brought out the first volumes of the Encyclopédie in 1751, he was continuously persecuted by clerical and political authorities: in 1752 the first two volumes were suppressed. In 1759 the license to publish was withdrawn altogether; and during the next four years, Diderot wrote the last ten volumes almost single-handed, in conditions of semi-secrecy. Moreover, in 1875, when William Robertson Smith published the article on The Bible in the ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, he was so strongly attacked that he was removed from his chair of Hebrew and Old Testament Studies at Aberdeen, and he became editor-in-chief of the encyclopedia that had been instrumental in his downfall.
If editors today do not face such hazards, one reason is clear. The tradition whereby an encyclopedia should challenge the received wisdom of the age is dead; encyclopedias instead are the received wisdom age, written by conventional academics for conventional academics. As such, we are bound to suspect them and at the same time to hope that our suspicions will prove to be unjustified. The honorary editor of the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Professor Alvin Johnson, claims that what his colleagues have produced is “an encyclopaedia that is entirely new, entirely expressive of the times.” This is a sufficiently wicked age for such a claim to deepen our suspicion and to intensify our hope.
Let me begin by praising the editors for what is a considerable achievement, even if, as I shall argue, a qualified one. Praise is deserved first for the remarkably high standard of so many articles. No teacher in the social sciences can afford not to know the articles relevant to his courses; in some cases it will be difficult for him to find elsewhere better accounts of the state of his discipline. Oskar Morgenstern’s essay on Game Theory, Edmund Leach’s on Ritual, Sidney Morgenbesser’s on Scientific Explanation, Jean Piaget’s on Developmental Psychology, R. Duncan Luce and Patrick Suppes’s on Mathematics, and Francis Haskell’s on Art and Society—these are as masterly as one would have expected from such authors, although each essay is presented in a very different way. There are many other articles of equal distinction. Indeed, if social scientists kept this book by their bedsides and read an essay on some field other than their own every night, some exciting things might begin to happen.
The editors deserve praise also for the occasional brilliant and unexpected choice of author. Eric Hobsbawm on Poverty is one example; M. I. Finley on Slavery is another. Moreover, the choice of subjects shows intelligent and original editorial judgment. “Social Science Fiction,” an admirable piece by Yole G. Sills, lies unexpectedly between the solemnities of “Social Psychology” and “Social Structure.”
Is there a dogmatic editorial view-point? The editors have obviously worked hard to give room to widely conflicting views. They have done so by …