Read the old Roget’s Thesaurus (arranged not alphabetically, but arbitrarily, by subject matter) from beginning to end and you will find a detailed portrait of 19th century philosophy, from metaphysics through the physical world, human behavior and morality to religion.
It begins with Existence and Nonexistence (1 & 2), Substantiality and Insubstantiality (3 & 4) and moves gradually through the whole of human experience, finally finishing with Religious Rites, Ecclesiastical Attire and Religious Institutions.
Starting at metaphysics and ending with religion may seem to us a circular route, but I suspect that Roget regarded it as a one-way, upward journey.
Not only is the sequence of the entries indicative of Victorian thought, the very fact that Roget had so much confidence in his vision of the universe gives us a sense of how different that world was from our own relativistic one.
Well, I just took a look (on Amazon) at the newest edition of Roget’s. The ordering of the entries has been completely changed to reflect our modern world view. The first entry is Birth; the last entries have to do with astronomy and space travel. Is it now a great work of 20th century or 21st century philosophy? Somehow, I think not – but then again I am just an old curmudgeon.
A Synopsis of Categories in the original Roget’s breaks down the entries into eight main classes: Abstract Relations; Space; Physics; Matter; Sensation; Intellect; Volition; Affections. (Roget’s “space” is not outer space, but what I think philosophers now call “extension.”)
Each class is broken down into two smaller categories. For example:
VI. Possessive Relations
C. Transfer of Property
E. Interchange of Property
F. Monetary Relations
The new Roget’s Synopsis has fifteen classes: The Body and the Senses; Feelings; Place and Change of Place; Measure and Shape; Living Things; Natural Phenomena; Behavior and the Will; Language; Human Society and Institutions; Values and Ideals; Arts; Occupations and Crafts; Sports and Amusements; The Mind and Ideas; Science and Technology. Each class is broken down into single smaller categories. For example
I. The Body and the Senses
In the old Roget’s the first two entries for life can be found in
A. Being in the Abstract
B. Being in the Concrete.
and death (meaning decease) in
III. Organic Matter
In the new Roget’s life and death follow one another:
V. Living Things
In the old Roget’s the noun good can be found in
A. Adaptation to Ends.
Interestingly, good in the abstract (The Good) is not listed as a synonym for 672.1, goodness. Good is found at 672.4, where some of its synonyms are welfare, benefit and profit.
In the old Roget’s the noun evil is at
A. Adaptation to Ends.
Again, abstract Evil is not listed as a synonym for 673.1 badness (although evilness is); the noun, evil, appears in 673.3, with such synonyms as bad, wrong and damage.
It’s interesting that the old Roget’s primary listings for goodness and badness are in Adaptation to Ends – a further indication that there is no intrinsic, abstract, Good or Evil, in the old Roget’s universe.
The new Roget’s, like the old one, does not seem to list good or evil in the abstract, as in the Good. (I’m looking at Amazon’s “search inside this book feature,” so finding things is a little complicated.) Virtue and vice follow one another:
X. Values and Ideals
653. Virtue (moral goodness)
654. Vice (moral badness)
In the old Roget’s virtue and vice follow one another in the class Affections:
D. Moral Conditions
Again, there is no sense of abstract Good or abstract Evil, no platonic, or biblical, dichotomy. Virtue and vice are human attributes. There do not seem to be synonyms for Good and Evil, per se, in either Roget’s.
I would like to explore the differences between the two books more thoroughly, but the work is too tedious, since for the new Roget’s I have to use Amazon’s “inside the book” feature. I doubt if I will spring for a copy of the new Roget’s. If I do, I might investigate further.
What I am referring to as the old Roget’s is the 1962 edition. Its introduction seems to indicate that Roget’s original ordering of categories has not been changed. New words have been added and obsolete ones removed.
The new Roget’s, with the new sequence of categories, is the work of Barbara Ann Kipfer. Despite my initial misgivings, I have to say that Kipfer has done a decent job. While unable to delve deeply into the new Roget’s, in its rearranged, renamed classifications, I can’t find any hint of the political correctness, the parochial “timeliness,” which mars so many reference works these days.
Seeing a list of other works by Kipfer made me a bit dubious again. Her best-selling book is 14,000 Things to be Happy about. Looking into it (via Amazon) I see that it is a random catalog, in no particular order, of things. Unable to copy and paste from Amazon, I’ll list the first six items on one page:
an inflated glitzy metallic balloon
the philosophy of Socrates
Hmmm. Well – she got away with it. She simply made a list, probably adding to it every day as something not unpleasant occurred or came to mind (the “inflated glitzy metallic balloon” is a giveaway that she’s relying on personal experience, not research). No doubt she enlisted the help of friends and family. When it finally reached the right length, her agent got Workman Press to publish it. Good work if you can get it. It's a harmless scam. Wish I’d thought of it.
I wonder what the market would be for 14,000 Things to be Unhappy about?