Kurzbeschreibung: Collins, The sociology of philosophies: a global theory of intellectual change

Randall Collins hat im Jahr 1998 ein Buch publiziert mit dem Titel The sociology of philosophies: a global theory of intellectual change. Dieses Buch analysiert die globalen philosophiegeschichtlichen Entwicklungen aus soziologischer Perspektive ausgehend von der Metapher des „Netzwerkes“. Collins kann in beeindruckender Weise vielfältige Vernetzungen innerhalb verschiedener intellektueller Traditionen aufzeigen wie auch zwischen den verschiedenen Traditionen. Er analysiert nicht nur das alte Griechenland, sondern auch das alte China, Indien und Japan in verschiedenen Phasen ihrer Entwicklung. Ebenso werden der Islam, das Judentum und das Christentum mit einbezogen, unberücksichtigt bleiben hingegen Afrika und Südamerika. Er verfolgt dann verschiedene Netzwerke bis ins 19. Jahrhundert. Der Entwurf von Collins liefert ein bisher nicht bekanntes Bild von den Vernetzungsstrukturen intellektueller Entwicklungen seit der Antike. In programmatischer Hinsicht beschreibt er seinen Versucht wie folgt:

„The twentieth century is the first in which comprehending world history has become possible. Previous generations of scholars knew too little about other parts of the world beyond their own. Cosmopolitan historical research, beginning in the German university revolution around 1800, reached a critical mass in the early years of our own century. Then appeared the first great efforts to break out of a Eurocentric viewpoint and to sketch the shapes on a world scale: Weber, Spengler, Toynbee, Kroeber. Their work is judged of mixed quality today, not surprisingly for pioneering efforts; that it appeared simultaneously indicates it was based on an underlying shift in the means of intellectual production. […] 

Two generations later, we are in a position to understand world culture much more deeply. Ironically, as scholarship has filled in more gaps and given firmer contours to what formerly was just coming into focus, we face new obstacles to understanding. We suffer from cognitive overload, from having amassed too much information to assimilate it. Disciplinary specialization and subspecialization are predictable in an academic profession that since 1960 has grown worldwide to a size dwarfing anything before. That is one reason why, since European universities expanded recently from elite to mass systems, doctrines have arisen attacking the very possibility of knowledge. Although the world is certainly not a text, today when several hundred thousand publications appear every year in the humanities and social sciences, and another million in the natural sciences, it may well feel as if we are drowning in a sea of texts.

Will we close our eyes on knowing world history at just the time when we have the resources to break out of our regional cultures? Practitioners of world comparisons are not entirely lacking; scholars such as Braudel, Needham, McNeill, and Abu-Lughod have continued to widen East-West perspectives, and Malraux opened the doors of a ‘museum without walls’ of world art. Although contemporary Western scholars are often hedged in by historicist particularism, Asian scholars such as Shigeru Nakayama and Hajime Nakamura have made bold efforts at trans-parochial history from the other side. Further on in the twenty-first century, when economic linkage and intermigration will indeed produce a common world culture, educated people will likely be embarrassed to know so little about the intellectual history of other parts of the world than their own.

But how to deal with the practical problem? To be a literate person today is like living in the library of Jorge Luis Borges, where near-infinite corridors of books contain the universe but we lack a key to their contents. My strategy has been to focus on intellectual networks: the social links among those thinkers whose ideas have been passed along in later generations. I have chosen philosophers because theirs is the archetypal intellectual role, which goes back several thousand years in each of the world civilizations, and from which have branched off most of the specialized disciplines. My first labor has been to assemble such networks for China, India, Japan, Greece, the Islamic world, medieval Christendom, and modern Europe, over very long periods of time. Assembling these networks has become a little history of its own; I have been working on some parts of this project for over 25 years.

The networks are a mnemonic device, a way to keep track of the expanses of history outside the few places that are familiar to us all. The networks are also the basis of a theory; I am arguing that if one can understand the principles that determine intellectual networks, one has a causal explanation of ideas and their changes. In a very strong sense, networks are the actors on the intellectual stage. Networks are the pattern of linkage among the micro-situations in which we live; the sociology of networks penetrates deeply into the very shapes of our thought. The network dynamics of intellectual communities provides an internal sociology of ideas, taking us beyond the reductionism of traditional externalist sociology. The historical dynamics of social identities in networks, too, casts the question of canonicity in another light. We need not fall into a Platonism of eternal essences to avoid the polemical simplification of reputation to sociopolitical dominance; there is a social construction of eminence which does justice to the inner processes of intellectual life." (Collins, Randall: The sociology of philosophies. A global theory of intellectual change. Cambridge 1998, S. XVII.)

(Auszug aus: Elberfeld, Rolf: Philosophiegeschichtsschreibung in globaler Perspektive. Felix Meiner Verlag: Hamburg 2017, S. 312–13)