philosophy v science


How does the character of the scientist differ from that of the humanist? The past century has seen an acceleration in the “scientization” of the humanities. The roots of this trend, as other contributors to this symposium have noted, are entwined with those of modernity itself. And while the tale of this turn has been told broadly before — the story of entire disciplines adopting the name, the method, and the underlying assumptions of modern science — little has been said of the change in the educators themselves. It is not just the method of inquiry and the substance of instruction that distinguishes these new scientists of man from the philosophical humanists who preceded them. The character of these new scholars is shaped by, and in turn shapes, what and how they learn and think and teach. One of the earliest and most perceptive considerations of this shift within the academy appears in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, particularly in Beyond Good and Evil (1886). Nietzsche’s exploration of this subject was motivated in large part by his own searing experiences over the preceding two decades. In 1869, at only twenty-four years of age, he was awarded a doctorate in classical philology — a discipline then at the vanguard of the scientization of the humanities. Shortly thereafter he was appointed to a professorship at Basel University where he was a respected and popular teacher of ancient language, philosophy, and literature. But his career prospects were dashed when advance copies of his first book, The Birth of Tragedy (1872), were met with universal condemnation in academic circles. His students abandoned him, and for the next six years he taught only sporadically at Basel, during which time he studied natural science and published a collection of essays and a book of aphorisms. In 1879, at the age of thirty-five, he retired from the academy for good because of health problems and spent the rest of his life living off a modest pension and writing the philosophical works for which he is best known today.

more from Shilo Brooks at The New Atlantis here.