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Abstract

In "Adams's Quest for the Unity of Knowledge," Karl Shaddox discusses Henry Adams's lesser known work, The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma, as a continuation of the historian's attempt at unifying knowledge in The Education. Whereas unification in The Education was proposed by historicizing force, whether religious or molecular, Adams's effort in The Degradation employed a scientistic approach to history. Using Josiah Gibb's research on the equilibrium of heterogeneous substances, Adams felt he had provided a natural explanation of social and historical change — and thus the elemental connection between matter and mind. Critical opinion has not been receptive to Adams's "Rule of Phase," some asserting that The Degradation was not intended to be taken seriously. Adams was a subtle ironist, but given his historical instinct, it is difficult to conclude that this final work was an extended joke. Rather, Adams's efforts in The Degradation, like The Education, should be regarded as an account of a reluctant modernist coming to grips with the limitations of human knowledge in the late nineteenth century.

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