Academic journal article German Quarterly

Goethe's Way of Science: A Phenomenology of Nature

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Goethe's Way of Science: A Phenomenology of Nature

Article excerpt

Seamon, David, and Arthur Zajonc, eds. Goethe's Way of Science: A Phenomenology of Nature. Albany: State U of New York P, 1998. xii + 324 pp. $24.95 paperback.

Seamon and Zajonc aim at presenting an "in-depth picture of the conceptual and applied state of Goethean science today" and attempt to "balance classic philosophical treatments of Goethe's work with more recent examples of how his ideas continue to influence science and related areas like the phenomenology of nature and the philosophy of science" (xii). Following two introductory sections, they organize the twelve essays that comprise the volume into three parts: "Goethean Science: Philosophical Foundations," "Doing Goethean Science," and "The Future of Goethean Science."

Seamon, an architect trained in geography and environment behavior, states that only the articulation of phenomenology in the twentieth century provided a conceptual language adequate to Goethe's approach to science and then links Goethe's thought to the existential current within this branch of philosophy. Looking at Goethe and the science of his own time, the physicist Zajonc distinguishes his subject both from the Enlightenment of a d'Alembert and the natural philosophy of Schelling and traces Goethe's development as a scientist.

Frederick Amrine opens part one of the volume by arguing that Goethe not only anticipated many of the most important tenets of contemporary philosophy of science but also offers a solution to its central dilemmas. He asserts, for example, that Goethe knew there can be no neutral observational language and that true scientific progress issues from the development of new, controlled ways of seeing. The physicist Walter Heitler sees Goethe's major achievement in his demonstration that rigorous science is possible within the realms of pure form and the qualitative, namely, through intuitive perception. Similarly, the physician and physiologist Herbert Hensel stresses Goethe's cognitive stance toward sensory experience, which strikes a balance between selfless contemplation and active structuring of experimental conditions. Following a review of phenomenology, the philosopher Ronald H. Brady "rereads" Goethe's botany with an eye toward his "logic of becoming" (107) and the call that its union of experience and theory makes for a humanist-scientific formation of culture.

In one respect the contributions in part two are the most interesting of the entire volume, for they reveal a number of present-day (life) scientists doing precisely Goethean sciencesomething that, in view of Goethe's uneasy relationship to mainstream science, is not at all self-evident. …

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