Conceptual Foundations for Multidisciplinary Thinking

By Stephen Jay Kline | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 16
Relations Among the Disciplines
in the Twentieth Century

Similarities and Differences

Two trends in the disciplines from the nineteenth century continued with growing strength in the first few decades of the twentieth century. The increasing wealth in a number of European nations allowed the professionalized communities of scholars to grow rapidly. These communities continued to use iterative feedback between predictive rules and empirically grounded data in the ways described in Chapter 15. The fact that these communities were now largely composed of professionals who formed "invisible colleges" also led in many fields to significant increases in every aspect of scholarly standards. David Potter's remarks ( 1954) about standards in history and the Flexner report regarding standards in medicine in the United States describe two examples among many.

As a result of these trends, explosive growth of knowledge occurred not only in depth of detail and in the number of areas studied but also in the assurance with which many results are known. The process of forming more and more specialized disciplines and subdisciplines allowed individuals to create more and more depth in their schemata about specific, relatively narrow domains. This has vastly increased our power to understand many specific areas of knowledge. At the same time, it has ramified the Tower of Babel formed by detailed schemata and jargon.

As a result, probably no one person, certainly not the writer, can create a balanced overview of what has happened to the content of what humans know collectively about ourselves and our world in the late twentieth century. However, an appropriate group of scholars could probably form far better overviews than we presently have; we will discuss how this might be done in Appendix A.

A new development in the twentieth century was the diffusion of leading research and scholarship in the disciplines dealing with truth assertions from Europe to the United States and, to a lesser extent, to many other areas of the

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