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“Romantic” Science 1. The importance of Goethe 2. Naturphilosophie 3. Romantic science and German culture Goethe and Science Early classic study –1943, A.G.F. Gode-von Asche – Natural Science in German Romanticism – incorporates Goethe.

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“Romantic” Science

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“Romantic” Science

1. The importance of Goethe

2. Naturphilosophie

3. Romantic science and German culture


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Goethe and Science

  • Early classic study –1943, A.G.F. Gode-von Asche – Natural Science in German Romanticism – incorporates Goethe.

  • Most recent works –i.e. Astrida Orle Tantillo’s The Will to Create: Goethe’s Philosophy of Nature(2002), for technical reasons, do not identify his science as Romantic –my interest only in how Goethe’s ideas develop and are picked up by “Romantic Scientists”


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Goethe & Science -2

  • Goethe (1749-1832)

  • Interesting combination of speculation ad radical empiricism.

  • Courses in anatomy, surgery, chemistry in early 1770s

  • Detested analytic/mathematical approaches of Descartes, Newton, and their followers –proposed more phenomenological/populist science.

  • Evidence of interest in natural history –geology, botany -- begins as early as 1776, first essay (unpublished) submitted 1784, first major publication –The Metamorphosis of Plants out in 1790.


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Goethe and Science -2-

  • Several long term features already present in 1784 essay “On Granite”.”

  • 1. distinguishes between “useful” laws --. i.e. Linnaean botany –and understanding. His goal “to interpret nature, not serve technology.”

  • 2. “Type” theory

  • 3. Emphasis on change –both external, & internally driven “metamorphoses” --morphology

  • 4. Emphasis on unification –i.e neptunist & vulcanist geology –acknowledged as “subjective” –like Kant’s regulatory faculty of judgment –but probably independent at this time.


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Goethe & Science -3-

  • Interested in anthropology through Herder

  • Relation of humans to other species –expecting some unity –seeks to challenge traditional claim –humans have no intermaxilary bone in upper jaw---finds in embryos & in cleft palate pathology.

  • “archetypes” –from physical to ideal existence


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The Metamorphosis of Plants

  • Begins from leaf “Type”

  • Focus on growth directed by an internal Bildungstrieb which drives toward complexity.

    • Seed leaves (cotyledons) simple –increasing complexity to mature

  • Whether from Goethe or not the notion of an inner drive toward complexity becomes central feature of many biological and social theories –Lamarck, Chambers, Spencer, etc.


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Turns to natural philosophy

  • Extensive magnetic, optical experiments

  • Driven by concept of polarity –i.e between North and South poles, black and white, complementary colors, etc. Resolution of tension between opposites becomes central organizing principle for Naturphilosophen.

  • Radical empiricism –did not allow Goethe to isolate central regularities in phenomena from what we think of as accidental distortions or to divorce “objective” phenomena from subjective experiences –so optics often focused on psychological aspects of experiences of color


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F.W. J. Schelling & Naturphilosophie

  • Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature (1797) –appeals to Goethe, has him appointed to faculty at Jena in 1798 (still more who you knew than what you knew in getting academic appointments.)

  • Rejected both Idealist & Materialist responses to Kantian dichotomy –i.e MIND is primary and the external world is its creation, or MATTER is primary, consciousness an epiphenomenon, and freedom illusory.

  • Schelling posits the Absolute which manifests itself as mind in us and as nature outside of us. (polar character)


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Naturphilosophie -2

  • Schelling “By virtue of Gravity the body is in unity with all others; through magnetism it picks itself out and gathers itself together as a particular unity. Magnetism is therefore the universal form of an individual being in itself.”

  • “What in magnetic substances is still distinguished as magnetism is immediately lost upon contact [with non-magnetic substances], as electricity…”

  • Suggests to some the conversion of magnetism to electricity –taken up by Oersted & others

  • A significnt # of German experimental physicists stimulated by Schelling –do not all buy his whole system.

    • Ritter & ultraviolet light

    • Seebeck & thermo-electricity

    • Weiss & crystallography


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Naturphilosophie -3-

  • Major impact on physiology– as in physics only a few accepted Schelling completely –but many develop particular ideas

    • Oken –Schleiden & cell theory

    • Karl von Baer –develops epigenetic theory of growth –enwicklungsmechanic –growth driven by a special developmental force

    • Identifies 4 basic “types” of organisms –within each type there is change over time toward greater specialization –some recapitulation in embryonic development --prepares way for Darwin in Germany BUT fuses inheritance & individual development, so hard to separate as in U.S.


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Johannes Müller

  • Naturphilosoph early in career –after conversion, experimental work still guided by Schelling’s & Goethe’s ideas, “uncovering the metamorphosis of the organs and organism”

  • Did extremely detailed studies of embryo development in many species, focused on animal/human comparisons.

  • Became powerful conservative academic politician.


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Romanticism, science, and politics

  • After 1790’s Romantic art & science brought together

    • Synthesis of opposites into a higher unity –central to aesthetics as to Naturphilosophy -- Shakespeare becomes model literary artist because of ability to integrate comic & tragic elements into a whole.

  • Romantic science and politics brought together in part by organicist themes –growth directed by inner force; in part by cultural nationalism which sees Volk as locus of creativity in art. –note post- soviet politics in eastern Europe dominated by artists, musicians, etc.


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German nationalism & anti- “Napoleonic universalism”

  • Johanne Fichte Address to the German Nation (1808)

    • “Only when each people, left to itself, develops and forms itself in accordance with its own peculiar quality, and only when in every people, each individual develops himself in accordance with that common quality, as well as in accordance with his own particular quality, Then and only then does the manifestation of divinity appear in its true mirror as it ought to be.”

    • Based on common language, “germanies” should be unified –”those who speak the same language are joined to each other by a multitudeo of invisible bonds. . . They belong together and are by nature one and an inseparable whole”


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