Introduction

Maybe Aristotle was right to optimistically assert that ‘all men by nature desire to know’ (Aristotle, 2006:3), but it is doubtful whether he could have anticipated the drastic changes the concept of ‘knowledge’ would undergo in the course of time. Philosophers such as Toulmin (1990), MacIntyre (1985), and Feyerabend (1999), among others, have helped us see how radical the change has been. Roughly, until the Middle Ages knowledge was conceived in essentially classical Greek (particularly Aristotelian) terms: knowledge was primarily self-knowledge and the search for the virtuous life; it did not so much imply the exercise of the individual cognitive faculty as the ability to participate effectively in a larger collective; it was context-dependent and infused with values. By contrast, with the mechanization and secularization of the world in the modern age, knowledge acquired a strongly utilitarian meaning. It gradually became identified with abstraction, general principles, and the ability to obtain results; it no longer incorporated ultimate values but acquired descriptive neutrality. Phronesis gave way to episteme, and praxis to theoria. Peter Drucker (1993) usefully pointed out that one of the key events that reflected the changing meaning of knowledge in the eighteenth century was the publication of Encyclopedie in France (edited by Diderot and d’Alembert between 1751 and 1772). For the first time knowledge ceased to reside in the heads of certain authoritative ...

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