The "figurative system of human knowledge", sometimes known as the tree of Diderot and d'Alembert, was a tree developed to represent the structure of knowledge itself, produced for the Encyclopédie by Jean le Rond d'Alembert and Denis Diderot.
The tree was a taxonomy of human knowledge, inspired by Francis Bacon's Advancement of Knowledge. The three main branches of knowledge in the tree are: "Memory"/History, "Reason"/Philosophy, and "Imagination"/Poetry.
Notable is the fact that theology is ordered under 'Philosophy'. The historian Robert Darnton has argued that this categorization of religion as being subject to human reason, and not a source of knowledge in and of itself (revelation), was a significant factor in the controversy surrounding the work. Additionally notice that 'Knowledge of God' is only a few nodes away from 'Divination' and 'Black Magic'.
The original version, in French, can be seen in the graphic on the right. An image of the diagram with English translations superimposed over the French text is available. Another example of English translation of the tree is available in literacy. (See Reference by Schwab.) Below is a version of it rendered in English as a bulleted outline.
The Tree of Diderot and d'Alembert
"Detailed System of Human Knowledge"
from the Encyclopédie
- Uniformity of Nature
- Irregularities of Nature
- Celestial Wonders
- Unusual Meteors
- Wonders of the Earth and the Sea
- Monstrous Minerals
- Monstrous Vegetables
- Monstrous Animals
- Wonders of the Elements
- Uses of Nature
- Arts, Crafts, Manufactures
- Working and Uses of Gold and Silver
- Working and Uses of Precious and Semiprecious Stones
- Working and Uses of Iron
- Working and Uses of Glass
- Working and Uses of Skin
- Working and Uses of Stone, Plaster, Slate, etc.
- Working and Uses of Silk
- Products, such as
- Brocaded Frabics, etc.
- Working and Uses of Wool
- Working and Uses, etc.
- General Metaphysics, or Ontology, or Science of Being in General, of Possibility, of Existence, of Duration, etc.
- Knowledge of God
- Knowledge of the Soul
- Pneumatology, or Knowledge of the Spirit, or Special Metaphysics
- Knowledge of Man
- Art of Thinking
- Knowledge of Propositions
- Art of Retaining
- Art of Communication
- Knowledge of Oratorical Devices
- Knowledge of Oratorical Qualities
- Knowledge of Good and Evil in General, of Duties in General, of Virtue, of the Necessity of Being Virtuous
- Knowledge of Nature
*These divisions can also be referred to the branch of mathematics which deals with their principles.
- Robert Darnton, "Epistemological angst: From encyclopedism to advertising," in Tore Frängsmyr, ed., The structure of knowledge: classifications of science and learning since the Renaissance (Berkeley, CA: Office for the History of Science and Technology, University of California, Berkeley, 2001).
- Preliminary discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot, Jean Le Rond d'Alembert, translated by Richard N. Schwab, 1995. ISBN 0-226-13476-8