Philosophy as Basis
for the Dewey Classification Schedule
Eugene E. Graziano*
It has been enigmatic with regard to the Dewey Decimal Classification to understand, for example, why the subject class "Theology" should immediately follow, "Philosophy". Why is, "Sociology" separated from, "History" by so many unrelated classes; and, "Philology" from, "Literature"? Every librarian has wondered at some time why such similar subjects are so far apart in the Dewey Classification, and why apparently unrelated classes are so close. Early in this century the problem was of great concern to scholars of classification. No satisfactory solution was given, and ultimately the question was no longer asked.
Recently, K. F. Leidecker's discoveries have allowed the question to be reopened . Mr. Leidecker has shown beyond doubt that the order of the major subject classes of the Dewey Classification derive historically from, and follow the order of, the William Torrey Harris Classification, which was devised for the St. Louis Public School Library. The question now has become, "Why are the classes so ordered in the Harris Classification?"
Late in the 19th century, one of the chief demands made of book classification systems was that they allow books on the same subjects to lie together, and that the progression from one subject to another follow logically. This demand made the classification of books an extremely complicated metaphysical problem. What is logical depends upon the theory of reality in which it is grounded.
W. T. Harris, by admission and profession was an Hegelian. He had studied the philosophy of G. W. F. Hegel from 1858, and until 1879, made this philosophy the basis of all his activities. He says “. . . Even the hunting of wild turkeys or squirrels was the occasion for the use of Philosophy. Philosophy came to mean with us, therefore, the most practical of all species of knowledge. We used it to solve all problems . . . I had worked pretty constantly on the subject of this [Hegel's] logic . . . as sort of center of all my thinking since the year 1860 . . . ”.
The Public School Library, which was to become the St. Louis Public Library, was established in 1865. W. T. Harris was a supporter of the Public School Library, and, "besides giving his time and talents to the general affairs of the library, Mr. Harris prepared a scheme of classification so comprehensive and so elastic that it serves as well now for the collection of 120,000 volumes as it did for 20,000" .
The Harris subject headings, compared by Mr. Leidecker with the Dewey, are as follows:
Evidences of Hegel's Philosophy in the Harris Classification.
In 1870, the St. Louis Public School Library published its first catalog which had been classified according to the system devised by Harris . Prior to publication, Harris had presented his scheme in, The Journal of Speculative Philosophy . In this discussion of book classification, he stated that every scheme of classification is based upon some philosophical system. He never mentioned Hegel; instead, he dwelt upon Francis Bacon's classification of knowledge in order to show its unfitness as a basis for book classification . This was necessary because the Library of Congress System had its origins in Bacon's philosophy, This writer's abridgement of Bacon's classification of knowledge, as outlined by Harris, follows below, and shows clearly that it has not the remotest similarity to Harris' nor Dewey's systems:
A. Natural History
B. Civil History
a. Civil History Proper
b. Ecclesiastical History
c. Literary History
C. Appendix to History
A. Narrative (Epic)
C. Allegorical. Fables, Mythologies, etc.
A. Theology or Divine Philosophy
B. Natural philosophy
c. Appendix Mathematics
1. Pure Mathematics
2. Mixed Mathematics
C. Philosophy of Man
a. Human Philosophy
(a) Medicinal Arts
2. Soul and Body related
(a) Rational Soul
b) Ethics .
Harris held that the Bacon Classification was not satisfactory, but that if it were inverted, the three main divisions would at least be in a more true order. "Inverting the order in which Bacon considers the system Science should come first on account of its furnishing the method and principles for what follows.
I. Science gives the department of books in which conscious system prevails.
II. Art (Aesthetic) gives the department in which 'organic unity' or unconscious system prevails.
III. History gives the department in which the system is determined by accidental relations, such as time and place" .
These three all inclusive divisions of knowledge correspond with, and refer essentially to the same levels of knowledge as Hegel's three logical and ontological levels: Begriff, Wesen, and Sein. Begriff is the level of reason, in which logical ideas are related to other ideas. Wesen is the area in which ideas or symbols express relationships concerning denotable objects. Sein is the level of individual particular existence and events. These distinctions are basic to his "dialectics", and moreover may be considered to be unique to Hegel's philosophy.
Harris noted that Bacon had used a principle or division based upon both form and content, and held that this was, "the true method". Harris had studied Hegel's, Logic, and knew it word for word . In this work, Hegel had written briefly on the form and content of books.
The following quotation is a summary of his views:
In a book, for instance, it certainly has no bearing upon the content, whether it be written or printed, bound in paper or in leather. That however does not in tile least imply that apart from such an indifferent and external form, the content of the book is itself formless. . . . The content of the Iliad, it may be said is the Trojan war, and especially the wrath of Achilles. In that we have everything, and yet very little after all; for the Iliad is made an Iliad by the poetic form, in which that content is molded . . . .
In Harris', Book Classification, he developed point for point the reasoning that he employed in deriving the particular classification scheme that he did. The reasoning is completely Hegelian. Quotations will be taken from this work and references will be given to Hegel which reveal that they might have been speaking in chorus. In the class, "Fine Arts", Harris adopted Hegel's subdivisions directly, as will be shown.
Hegel states that philosophy may be viewed as a single science which is composed of other sciences. It owes its development to the empirical sciences, but conversely these sciences are grounded in philosophy on the basis of the logical techniques and a priori assumptions from which they proceed. He further states that genuine philosophy makes it a principle to include every particular principle .
Harris concurs with Hegel:
Science unfolds into
I. Philosophy, or the most general principles, the forms and archetypes of all the rest. It has the strictest, most systematic method, and is the source of all system to the other sciences.
For these reasons, "Philosophy" was the first of his great subject classes.
Harris continues with the sciences:
II. Theologythe science of the absolute, just as Philosophy is the science of science.
To Hegel, the absolute is a metaphysical definition of God . A reason derived knowledge of God is the highest problem of philosophy, and theology is the systematic science of the knowledge of God . Thus, "Theology", is second in rank to "Philosophy".
For Hegel, the state was only subordinate to God. The individual person, through identification with and participation in the ideals of the state, achieved his highest personal development and in turn actualized institutions. "But the universal, that is to say the State, government, and law is the permanent underlying mean in which the individuals have and receive their fulfilled reality, intermediation, and persistence" .
Harris derived his third great class from the science of the third highest value, the state. He writes:
III. Social and Political sciences, including the treatises upon the institutions which relate man to his fellowmen in society and the state. His essential life as a spiritual being is conditioned upon his ascent above his merely natural, individual condition, by means of combination in the social organism.
These (Social and political sciences) are
1. Jurisprudence (the social organism as a constraining necessity acting upon the individual from without).
3. Political Economy.
5. Philologythese latter four sciences are the means through which the constraint becomes internal, and hence freedom.
"Philology", logically concludes the social sciences for Hegel and Harris because it is the science of language as an institution. Philology concerns language, the least particular institution of a people, as it exists per se; unlike literature which is concerned with the particular forms that are created with language.
At this point are concluded the subject classes which correspond to Hegel's, Begriff, and which Harris calls, "the conscious system". The next lower level of knowledge is concerned with the area of reality which is given as an, "unconscious system of Organic unity", and which corresponds with Hegel's level, Wesen. Nature is such an organic unity, as is also the work of art: both contain diversity in perfect harmony. Nature is prior to art because it is that from which all form is given to matter . From this concept is developed so‑called "dialectical materialism".
The most general or universal forms descriptive of nature are mathematical equations. They consist of practically pure form, and denote space relationships . Applied mathematics is concerned with space and motion: this is the science of physics. In the chemical equation, quantitative difference becomes qualitative . Qualitative differences define different objects in nature"Natural History". These sciences are analytical: they look to nature for forms. The practical arts constitute the application of knowledge to the control of nature . This is creativity for utility.
Harris agrees with Hegel in his development of these major subject classes:
IV. Natural Science and Useful Arts: the former unfold the laws of nature: the latter apply them to social uses . . .
1. Mathematics is the science of pure forms of Naturetime and space.
2. Physics is Nature treated dynamically, and hence quantitatively or mathematically.
3. Natural History is Nature organically considered, hence qualitatively and descriptively. Chemistry forms the transition from quantitative to qualitative; it is the realm where quantity constitutes qualitative difference.
In Natural History we commence with the Mineral or Earthorganism, and ascend through the Plant and Animal to Man as a merely natural beingEthnology.
4. Medicine is closely allied to Natural History, and its subjects take up in a new form the same content.
5. The useful arts and trades start from Natural Science and Proceed to unite with it a purely empirical element.
When creativity strives to produce an organic unity that has no utility, but which exists for itself, we have the work of art. Below are compared side by side the divisions of the Fine Arts exactly as ordered in their respective classifications by Harris, Hegel, and Bacon.
64. (B) Art
A. Narrative or Heroic (Epic)
When we observe further that Bacon makes "Music" and "Architecture" subclasses of “Mathematics"; and that he subsumes most of the fine arts under "Philosophy", there can be little question as to where Harris found his classes. In art, the Hegelian progression is from the art closest to matter, architecture; to poetry and prose, which are the "purest" arts because they are furthest from matter, and the senses, and depend almost entirely upon imagination for medium.
Finally, we come to the level of, Sein; or "accidental relations". This is the area of no apparent reason nor organic-unity. Relationships are entirely contingent to time and place . Particularity is supreme. Places, events, and particular people are of concern here, and this gives us, the classes, "Geography, History, and Biography".
Harris again agrees with Hegel's philosophy:
I. Geography and travels form the first or most external class under History.
II. Civil History is the normal type of this division.
III. Biography and correspondence. Heraldry and genealogy fall properly under this head . . .
Leidecker has shown that the major subject headings of the Dewey Classification Schedule and their relative order, were derived from the Harris Classification Schedule. The Harris and Dewey Systems have been supposed by some to be related to the classification of Francis Bacon. The evidence is strongly against the validity of such a supposition. Evidence is very strong if not conclusive, that the philosophy of Hegel is integral to the ordinal relationship of these classes, and that the demand for logic in the order is satisfied only in terms of Hegel's philosophy.
1. K. F. Leidecker, Yankee Teacher, the Life of William Torrey Harris, (New York: Philosophical Library, 1946). 399ff.
K. F. Leidecker, “Debt of Melvil Dewey to William Torrey Harris,” Library Quarterly, XV, (April, 1945), 139‑142.
2. W. T. Harris, Hegel's Logic, A Book on the genesis of the mind a critical Exposition. (Chicago: S. C. Griggs, 1895), V.
3. W. T. Harris, "Essay on Classification," Catalogue, Classified and Alphabetical, of the Books of the St. Louis Public School Library, (St. Louis: Missouri Dem. Book & Job Print., 1870), 1277.
4. Leidecker, op. cit., 139‑142.
5. U. S. Bureau of Education, Public Libraries in the United States of America. Part 1. 1876, (Washington: G. P. O., 1876), 986.
6. W. T. Harris, “Book Classification,” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, IV, (April, 1870).
7. Ibid., 119.
8. Ibid., 119.
9. Ibid., 119.
10. W. T. Harris, Hegel's Logic.
11. G. W. F. Hegel, The Logic of Hegel, Translator, William Wallace (ed.; London; Oxford University Press, 1950), 243‑244.
12. Ibid., 22‑25.
13. Ibid., 156.
14. Ibid., 73.
15. Ibid., 340.
16. G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Mind (2nd ed.; New York: MacMillan, 1949), 284‑342.
17. Ibid., 104.
18. Hegel, Logic., op. cit., 188.
19. Hegel, Phenomenology, op, cit., 709‑712.
20. Harris, Book Classification, op. cit., 127.
21. G. W. F. Hegel, The Philosophy of Fine Art, (London: G. Bell Ltd., 1920), III. 14‑24.
22. Harris, Book Classification, op. cit., 118‑119.
23. G. W. F. Hegel Philosophy of History, (New York: Colonial Press 1900) 1‑110.
24. Unpublished dissertation: E. Graziano. The Philosophy of Hegel as Basis for the Dewey Decimal Classification Schedule. 1955. University of Oklahoma. Norman.
* Asst. Science Librarian Southern Illinois University.
SOURCE: Graziano, Eugene E. "Hegel's Philosophy as Basis for the Dewey Classification Schedule," Libri 1959: vol. 9: no. 1: pp. 45‑52.
Weinberger, David. "Free Dewey!". KMWorld, posted Oct 1, 2004.
Wiegand, Wayne A. "The "Amherst Method": The origins of the Dewey Decimal Classification Scheme," Libraries & Culture, Vol. 33, No. 2, Spring 1998, pp. 175-194.
The American Hegelians: Selected Bibliography
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