Talk:Hippolyte Taine

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Tone down[edit]

I've been attempting to tone down some of 1911's more florid writing, and also to pare the whole thing down--it's simply too long for our purposes. Earlier versions are available in the history if I've cut anything that matters. I'll try to continue in this vein until it looks more like a Wikipedia article. Chick Bowen 02:18, 19 November 2005 (UTC)

To my mind this entry is a tremendously biassed -- and deeply outdated -- treatment of Taine's achievement. The emphasis throughout is placed on his resignation and pessimism which incite a putative reaction; this is a precipitious claim. Above all, work needs to be done to update the bibliography. [T. Cronan] —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talkcontribs) 20 July 2006.

Latest removal of 1911 Britannica material[edit]

For, oh, about a year now I've been meaning to get back to this article and try to straighten it up. As is attested above, it represents an extraordinarily skewed view of things, written during a period when Taine was still recent enough to be controversial and in a country where, though he lived there for a time, he was treated with considerable skepticism and some distrust. I have intended to update the 1911 material, but have come to the conclusion that there's just no way to do so; evaluating and updating each of EB's very broad assertion would require huge amounts of research and no little skill at revision. So I took it out. What's left is a decent biography and a link to race, milieu, and moment, which I wrote but I think it's not bad. Perhaps the latter should be merged in, I don't know. I certainly think the article needs an account of his work (as large a task as that would be given his output) but I don't think it can start with what was there. Chick Bowen 02:36, 30 November 2006 (UTC)

Article replaced[edit]

I have replaced this entire article with a new one. The old one, visible in the history here, was derived from an article from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica and was simply too out-of-date, biased, and archaic to be used. I will continue to add some purely biographical information from EB, but this article no longer uses any of their prose unless it is in quotation marks and cited. Chick Bowen 02:10, 5 June 2007 (UTC)

For the history of this version, see the history of the subpage on which I constructed it and that of Race, milieu, and moment, which I've merged in. Chick Bowen 02:11, 5 June 2007 (UTC)


I have reverted the addition of the infobox. As is often the case, the bullet points it contained were so simplistic as to be inaccurate--describing Taine's ethnicity as "caucasian" is anachronistic, since that's a term that, in his time, is specifically associated with the work of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, in which Taine had no interest--he would certainly not have identified with that classification. Describing his field as "history" is just odd--the bulk of his work is in literature, philosophy, political theory, and what would later be called anthropology. In general, I don't think an infobox is useful for someone like Taine, whose life and work are not easily summarizable into brief points. Chick Bowen 23:44, 6 April 2009 (UTC)

Taine coined term 'human molecule' (reverted?)[edit]

I added the bit about how "Taine was the first to coin the term human molecule in his 1870 book On Intelligence", but this was reverted by Kww. In researching the validity of this revert, Chick Bowen concludes on 12 June 2010: "The conclusion I have come to is that it is not. The phrase 'human molecule' was never used by Taine, although he was very interested in the theory of the molecule and its possible social applications. The phrase is used in passing by the translator of his On Intelligence, not by Taine himself, and there's no indication that the translator meant anything close to what the deleted content of human molecule describes. Thus, this is not only original research, it's original research pursued by deliberate manipulation and subtle reinterpretation of sources. I don't think this is the work of someone contributing to the encyclopedia in good faith." To clarify, at Chick Bowen, the original 1869 preface, written by Taine, wherein he coins the term "molécule humaine" (French) (English translation: 'human molecule'), reads:[1]

“Bref, celui qui étudie l'homme et celui qui étudie les hommes, le psychologue et l'historien, séparés par les points de vue, ont néanmoins le même objet en vue ; c'est pourquoi chaque nouvel aperçu de l'un doit être compté à l'acquis de l'autre est visible aujourd'hui, notamment dans l'histoire. On s'aperçoit que, pour comprendre les transformations que subit telle molécule humaine ou tel groupe de molécules humaines, il faut en faire la psychologie.”

This was translated in 1871 English edition, by T. D. Haye, as:[2]

“Between psychology thus conceived and history as it is now written the relationship is very close. For history is applied psychology, psychology applied to more complex cases. The historian notes and traces the total transformations presented by a particular human molecule or group of human molecules; and, to explain these transformations, writes the psychology of the molecule or its group.”

This became a popularly repeated quote said to be partially representative of Taine's book in the decades to follow.[3][4][5][6] To corroborate further, the Google (French → English) translation of Taine's original French quote reads:

“In short, anyone who studies the man and he who studies men, psychologist and historian, separated by points of view, however, have the same object in view, so each new preview of one must be counted at the achievements of others is visible today, especially in history. We realize that to understand the changes of a human molecule or group of human molecules, we must make psychology.”

Beyond this, in his circa 1871 “Notes on England”, Taine alluded to the view that a human is an “organized molecule” subject to spontaneous and continued transformation and in 1878 multi-volume work Origins of Contemporary France, speaking about the “dust of separate human molecules”. A significant student of Taine's human molecular philosophy, was American historian Henry Adams who wrote his 1910 book A Letter to American Teachers on history viewed as 'human molecules' subject to the second law of thermodynamics.[7] I hope these clarifications help? -- Libb Thims (talk) 23:32, 14 June 2010 (UTC)


  1. ^ Taine, Hippolyte. (1870). De l’Intelligence (molécule humaine, pgs. 20-21). Hachette & Cie.
  2. ^ Taine, Hippolyte and Haye, T.D. (trans). (1871). On Intelligence (human molecule). London: L. Reeve and Co.
  3. ^ Hale, Edward E. (1870). Old and New (human molecule, pg. 103). Lee & Shepard.
  4. ^ Tyler, Edward, Kingsley, William L., and Fisher, George P., Dwight, Timoth. (1872). “Notices of New Books: Taine On Intelligence” (human molecule, pg. 366). New Englander and Yale Review, 31: 366-67.
  5. ^ Flint, Robert. (1894). Historical Philosophy in France and French Belgium and Switzerland (human molecule, pg. 636). C. Scribner’s Sons.
  6. ^ Gooch, George P. (1913). History and Historians in the Nineteenth Century (human molecule, pg. 240). Longmans, Green, and Co.
  7. ^ Samuels, Ernest. (1989). Henry Adams (human molecule, pg. 115). Harvard University Press.