23. D’Alembert’s abstract terminology makes it difficult to be certain exactly what he means in this passage. Condorcet gives an indication of what is meant by the “first combining” in his Esquisse, or Sketch for a Historical Picture of the Human Mind (1794; tr. June Baraclough, New York, 1955), pp. 15–16:
The first fruits of continuous association are a number of arts, all concerned with the satisfaction of simple needs. They include the making of weapons, cooking and construction of the utensils necessary for cooking, preserving food and providing against those times of the year when fresh supplies are unobtainable. . . .
The more sophisticated combining probably refers to the birth of rudimentary sciences. According to René Hubert, Les Sciences sociales dans l’Encyclopédie
(Lille, 1923), pp. 318–19, this statement is an anticipation of Auguste Comte’s assertion that every individual science is born of some corresponding art or craft and that all the sciences have a utilitarian aim and origin. This interpretation would seem to harmonize with what follows in the next few paragraphs of the Discourse.
Medicine and agriculture, the most immediately necessary arts, are the original source of the physical sciences. In his article “Experimental,” Encyclopédie,
VI, 298, d’Alembert says that medicine was from the outset the most essential part of the physical sciences.
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