Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto - OCS, 15th INTERNATIONAL ISKO CONFERENCE

Font Size: 
Gustavo Silva Saldanha, Naira Christofoletti Silveira, Giulia Crippa, Tatiana de Almeida

Last modified: 2018-06-19


1 Introduction: the shadow of a name

The purpose of this article is to discuss some social and epistemic questions that seek to understand the role of Emanuele Tesauro for the Knowledge Organization (KO). The methodological approach is the historical and epistemological reflection, interested in understanding the elaboration and repercussion of concepts in KO.

The analysis combines a diachronic historical-epistemological background with a synchronic theoretical-critical approach. It is not, therefore, a historical and remote assumption, but a study that discusses relevant theoretical approaches to KO in historical time. Specifically, the study demarcates the relevance of the Tesauro’s theory in KO.

2 Historical and political context: Baroque, metaphor and the seventeenth century

In the seventeenth century, an epoch of crises, Emanuele Tesauro formulates his metaphor theory, the central part of his treatise of rhetoric Il cannocchiale aristotelico, of 1665. It’s a century characterized by religious wars, by the last great wave of black plague, by the insurgency of absolutism and mercantile capitalism, and the Baroque thought.

The Baroque, perceived by the prism of a new condition of openness of spiritual and cultural Modernity, contains an element that allows us to analyze a century in which, at the same time, are born a strong national model and a international cultural thought. The element identified is the metaphor.

Metaphor is the instrument that allows to consider and to represent the metamorphoses of the universe. It is designed to correspond to a scientific machine capable of performing a continuous transformation of the culture.

3 Rhetorical and Semiotics bases for a foundational theory of the KO epistemology

According to Eco (1984), the Tesaurian proposition seeks a semantic order, which is based on the Aristotelian categories. The focus is not only the conceptual mirror of truth behind a term, but its verisimilitude. For the construction of the index, the rhetoric is valued in the work as much as the logic. For Eco (1984), Tesauro’s theory is one of the foundations for the semiotics.

As of Aristotle, Tesauro (1670), integrates the discursive approaches to the constructs of the intellect. Thus, classification includes, according to Tesauro (1670), Category (itself, or categorize, that is, the meeting of all categories), Substance (sostanza, or category that is above all), Quantity (quantità), Quality (qualità), Relation (relatione), Action (attione), Passion (passione), Place (sito), Time (time), besides luogo (that is, the notion of space according to elements that demarcate movement) and habito (which can be interpreted as a category of contents).

Tesauro conceives a figurative approach, including the relations between feeling, emotion and intelligence (Proctor, 1973). We do not have here only the isolation and the relationship between terms, but the search for understanding of their effects, thus combining meanings and ideas to representing, to discover and to criate the knowledge.

4 Who “killed” Tesauro? Mechanicism, Neopositivism and Political Economy

Although the own name “Tesauro” resembles, in the Latin language, the thesaurus notion (the instrument), the historical epistemology of KO seems to conceal the theoretical and critical heritage of Emanuele, the man.

Some elements that imply the “erasure” of Tesauro, are, historically, related to social, political and epistemological issues, like a) the "triumph" of the systemic mechanicism of the Baconian background as a basis for the development of documentary languages ​​(in the face of New Organon, that is, in the conversion of the Aristotelian logic for an applied logic); b) the preponderant figuration of a neopositivism in KO, fundamental in the technical sense (the new support of mechanicism from the electronic universe post-1930s); c) the political economy of science, which establishes a central direction for the theoretical perspectives of the most diverse fields in the twentieth century, linked to industry and the economy in general.

5 Silent repercussions: Tesauro in the contemporary KO theory and practices

Seeking to understand Tesauro's role for the KO is not a simple task, especially if we take into account the “forgetting” of his thought. According to Saldanha & Silveira (2016), studies on the Tesauro’s method in KO are rare and superficial.

In critical-historical works, as Dahlberg (1993) and Hjorland (2008), Tesauro's point of view is not considered. Even in recent reviews, such as Clarke (2017), the Tesauro’s work is not mentioned.

Historically, the main references for the classification studies involved in this scope touch on the questions contained in the Tesauro’s theory. An example of this is the categorization, factioning, and indexing processes, popularized at the heart of the KO by such names as Ranganathan (1967), Vickery (1980), Dahlberg (1978) and Lancaster (1993), as well as members of the Classification Research Group (CRG).

When we analyze the influence of Aristotle on the 20th century authors of KO, the notion of concept and the method of facetting, we can find clear traces of Tesauro. We can see that the notion of the "categorical index" of the author is present nowadays. The main evidence, however, is not only Aristotelian thinking. It is possible to perceive, also, a specific way of analyzing the language for the to order of words and things.

6 Final remarks: who is Tesauro?

In the historical and epistemological scenario, the pragmatic approach as a theoretical basis and a theory of meaning grounded in a discourse theory are excluded from the historical path in KO. This context clearly contributes to the non-confrontation of the language challenges launched by Tesauro and by the complexity of his theory.

However, yesterday and today, whether from the logical and semantic approaches (the main approaches of the twentieth century), or from the discursive and social approaches (common at the turn of the twentieth century to the actuality), Tesauro and its “categorical index” continue increasingly present.

The Tesauro’s theory, under the influence of Aristotle, proposes to investigate the meaning dilemmas of the vocabulary frontiers between the knowledge domains. We can therefore say that Tesauro is one of the most important founders of KO theories.

Keywords: Emanuele Tesauro. Knowledge Organization Epistemology. Knowledge Organization Theory. Knowledge Organization History. Categorial Index.