From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

A treatise is a formal and systematic written discourse on some subject, generally longer and treating it in greater depth than an essay, and more concerned with investigating or exposing the principles of the subject.


The origin of the treatise label occurs after the Norman conquest of England. During the late Middle English period, trestis became treatise. The ise suffix is a loanword from French that indicates a quality, condition or function, which means treat was further refined to represent a treatment at a different level, which could only be achieved through documentation.

During this time, book production led to the manuscript culture outside of the monastery, and the classification of book types into literary genres. Due to the ambiguity of the treatise label (which continues to this day), certain literary works were given the treatise label to infer that it was particularly significant for its subject matter.

Clarification and Further Classification[edit]

As the meaning of the word treatise is more inferential than the definition alone, the meaning needs further clarification.

By definition, the key features of a treatise are as follows:

  • Written: To expose itself for examination.
  • Formal: To make the work open for objective examination by others.
  • Systematic: It is well organized to make it easy for others to examine.
  • Comprehensive: It aims to present a complete investigation of the subject so that the reader is able to confirm that it is complete.

In addition to the features above, to qualify as a treatise, the work has to create a sustained momentum in application that makes the alternative applications outdated or obsolete. The sustained momentum is important as without it, the work is unsuccessful in exposing the principles of the subject.

Time is the true test of a treatise, which is why it is uncommon for modern day works to be labelled as a treatise. When subject matter experts (that once had a different opinion) agree that the work has made other works outdated or obsolete, it then earns the label of treatise. In the short term, a work might begin as a white paper.

The above, therefore, introduces a further refinement to the features of a treatise:

  • It created a sustained momentum.
  • It has a broad application.
    Narrow applications are refinements and suited as a white paper.
  • It isn't an argument.
    A treatise rises above, opposed to suppresses, other ways of thinking.
  • It isn't a record of events.
    A record of events is suited as a biography or a textbook.
  • Having treatise in the title of the work doesn't qualify it as a treatise.

Notable Treatises[edit]

Treatises that are Popular Today[edit]

Works presented here continue to be valued as insightful for modern day interests. Such works are often available at libraries and bookstores, possibly specialty bookstores. These works possess the following features:

  • It has a comprehensive systematic discourse.
  • It isn't an argument.
  • It isn't a record of events.
  • A notable person expresses inspiration from the work (a common feature).
Title Author Year Subject Noted by...
The Art of War Sun Tzu ~500BC War Võ Nguyên Giáp[1]

Takeda Shingen[2]

Treatises With Historical Influence[edit]

Works presented here were influential in history and have become replaced by modern works. They possess the following features:

  • It has a comprehensive systematic discourse.
  • It isn't an argument.
  • It isn't a record of events.
  • Scholars state the work was influential in history.
Title Author Year Subject
Arthashastra Kautilya ~200BC Statecraft
De architectura Vitruvius ~30BC Architecture
Almagest Claudius Ptolemaeus 200s Astronomy
(Crest-Jewel of Discrimination)
Adi Shankara 700s Philosophy
De re aedificatoria Leon Battista Alberti 1400s Architecture
The World René Descartes 1600s Physics

Honored with the "Treatise" Label[edit]

The following works have been honored with the "Treatise" label, either because 'treatise' was used in the title or added here by Wikipedia visitors. They are presented here as they have yet to be confirmed to have the features of a treatise.

Works with a Systematic Discourse[edit]

Title Author Year Subject
The Prince Niccolò Machiavelli 1500s Politics
I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura Andrea Palladio 1570 Architecture
Discourse on the Method René Descartes 1600s Philosophy
Two Treatises of Government John Locke 1660 Government
Treatise on Harmony Jean-Philippe Rameau 1722 Music
Treatise on Instrumentation
(sometimes, Treatise on Orchestration)
Hector Berlioz 1844 Music
Treatise on Probability John Maynard Keynes 1921 Probability
Foundations of Economic Analysis Paul Samuelson 1947 Economics

Works with an Unknown or Unconfirmed Systematic Discourse[edit]

Title Author Year Subject
The Kural Valluvar ~500BC Virtues
Oeconomicus Xenophon ~400BC Economics
(The Book of Government)
Nizam al-Mulk 1000s Government
Teachings on the Flower Zeami Motokiyo 1300s Art
Discourses on Livy Niccolò Machiavelli 1500s Politics
Hua Yu Lu
(Treatise on the Philosophy of Painting)
Shitao 1600s Art
Compendium Musicae René Descartes 1600s Music

See also[edit]


  1. ^ For details of Sun Tzu's influence on Giáp see: Forbes, Andrew & Henley, David (2012), The Illustrated Art of War: Sun Tzu, Chiang Mai: Cognoscenti Books, ASIN B00B91XX8U.
  2. ^ Griffith, Samuel B. The Illustrated Art of War. 2005. Oxford University Press. pp. 17, 141–43.
  3. ^ J. L. Berggren, Alexander Jones; Ptolemy's Geography By Ptolemy, Princeton University Press, 2001 ISBN 0-691-09259-1