24. In the next several paragraphs d’Alembert launches into an exposition of his philosophic and scientific method to which he returns again and again in the Encyclopedia and in his other works. It is a classic statement of what Cassirer calls the philosophy of the Enlightenment. First the intellect analyzes the objects of rational study into the properties that constitute them, in order to study each of these properties in isolation; then it puts them together once more. Through the process of treating all the data of the disciplines analytically and synthetically, the mind attempts to discover the simple facts or simple laws behind them, which d’Alembert prefers to call “principles.” As he and other philosophes were well aware, this method had produced the triumphs of mathematics and physics in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, among them d’Alembert’s own Traité de dynamique (1743) and Traité de l’équilibre et du mouvement des fluides (1744). They hoped it would produce similar triumphs in the other disciplines. For a further elaboration, see d’Alembert’s excellent article “Analytic,” Encyclopédie, I, 403–4.


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