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Title: German literature and the world-view of science in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
Author: Smith, Peter Daniel
ISNI:       0000 0000 6683 5669
Awarding Body: University of London
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 1997
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My thesis explores the response of imaginative literature to the epistemology of science in Germany and Austria from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the end of the Second World War. I examine key texts which thematize aspects of the contemporary scientific world-view and which interrogate science in its role as an ontological and cultural paradigm. An introductory discussion of literature and science in the context of the history and philosophy of science, focuses on science as a sociohistorical and linguistic phenomenon. Johann Wolfgang Goethe's novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809) reveals the inherently anthropomorphic and ambiguous nature of all human discourse. The presence of metaphors in the language of chemistry serves to highlight and challenge the reductionism of mechanistic science. Ottilie personifies the interrelation of matter and metaphor (Zusammenhang). By contrast Eduard represents a fragmented approach to reality (Scheidung). Georg Buchner's plays Dantons Tod (1835) and Woyzeck (1836-37) illustrate the conflict between idealist Naturphilosophie and mechanistic science in defining the human condition. This issue is at the heart of Büchner's own research into comparative anatomy. Woyzeck highlights the problem of value neutrality in science. Adalbert Stifter's stories Bergkristall and Kalkstein (1853) demonstrate the dichotomy between the scientific view of nature as an expression of mechanistic causality and an anthropomorphic world-view based on the Chain of Being. Analysis of contrasting narratorial viewpoints reveals tensions which subvert the quasi-scientism of the 'Vorrede'. Robert Musil's Die Verwirrungen des Zoglings Torless (1906) expresses the epistemological uncertainty of an era when the paradigms of classical physics were being called into question. Torless challenges Mach's critical empiricism and the positivist world-view. In the psychological complexity of the protagonist both rational and meta-rational experiences of reality are accommodated. Bertolt Brecht's Leben des Galilei (1938-56) shows an understanding of the interrelation of science and society which reflects the twentieth century experience of both National Socialism and the dropping of the atomic bomb. Galilei challenges the notion of science as a metadiscourse operating outside of the forces of history.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Epistemology of science; J.W. Goethe