Goethe and the Scientific Tradition

Goethe and the Scientific Tradition

Goethe and the Scientific Tradition

Goethe and the Scientific Tradition

Excerpt

To speak of Goethe's links with the scientific tradition is in a sense misleading. For in the course of his scientific labours, he came to terms with more than one distinct tradition in earlier scientific thought. For this reason, the present investigation must necessarily be a complex one. Admittedly, it is always notoriously difficult to determine which influences materially affected the ideas of any major thinker. Such individuals are usually widely read, and Goethe is no exception: he had a remarkably full knowledge of the history of science, and devoted one of his longest works--the Materialien zur Geschichte der Farbenlehre--to this very subject. And besides, an original thinker such as Goethe is quite capable of arriving independently at ideas whose resemblance with those of past theorists may well be wholly fortuitous.

But there are further reasons why it is difficult to assess Goethe's debt as a thinker to past traditions. He profoundly distrusted systems, and those of his beliefs which he shares with tradition are often too general, diversified, and flexible in their application to be reduced to the influence of any single connected doctrine. And it is not . . .

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