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Fact and Fiction

Fact and Fiction: Literary and Scientific Cultures in Germany and Britain OPEN ACCESS

Copyright Date: 2016
Pages: 368
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    Fact and Fiction
    Book Description:

    Tracks the development of the concept of human dignity in post-war ethics and politics, focusing on the Vatican, the United Nations, and U.S. Federal Bioethics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4875-1140-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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    The title of this volume alludes to the paradigm of “The Two Cultures,” which became popular through Charles Percy Snow’s Rede lectures delivered in 1959. In these lectures, Snow lamented the divide of the two knowledge-producing systems of the humanities and the sciences.¹ Despite the reference to Snow, however, it is not the volume’s aim to represent and solidify an antagonistic formulation of the relationship between scientific and literary cultures. Rather, the articles assembled here investigate Snow’s division between science and the humanities as a historically conditioned and complex phenomenon. When the title refers to literary and scientific cultures, it...

  2. Part I Reading:: Electricity, Medicine
  3. Part II Imagining:: Botany, Chemistry, Thermodynamics

      Bernard de Fontenelle’sEntretiens sur la pluralité des mondes(Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds) (1686) is an exuberant popularizing French exposition of Cartesian physics in the form of a witty and imagined night-time dialogue between an intelligent noblewoman and her male counterpart and tutor on the grounds of her estate. The tutor’s eyes are on seduction more than on the heavens, but the woman takes him to task for his gendered gambits – “Do you think I’m incapable of enjoying intellectual pleasures? … Tell me about your stars!” (10– 11). Fontenelle’s female interlocutor may lack knowledge, but, representing not only...


      The relationship between poetry and science seems intuitively clear. They appear to be distinct from each other through mutual exclusion. Whereas poetic fiction expresses subjective ideas by imaginatively combining images and words and realizing them through the creation of mythical or literary worlds, scientific investigation – at least according to its common modern understanding – aims for the objective representation of knowledge by rigorously excluding anything that can be associated with fiction.¹ Whereas poets virtually transcend in imaginary flights the “real” world and thus the material basis of science, scientists arrive at facts as the result of strictly controlling their imagination, reducing...


      In his 1873Naturearticle, British physicist James Clerk Maxwell introduced readers to the molecule, a particle about which little had heretofore been known. “Every substance … has its own molecule,” the renowned scientist methodically explained in his opening remarks, and every molecule a characteristic mass and composition (“Molecules” 437). Yet there were significant limitations to the investigator’s knowledge, he admitted, in spite of Britain’s many advances in the physical and thermodynamic sciences. Even in the article’s first paragraph, he conceded that “no one has ever seen or handled a single molecule,” and characterized his own work as “deal[ing] with...

  4. Part III Sensing:: Anthropology, Psychology, Aesthetics

      In this chapter I show how, in his earliest writings, Johann Gottfried Herder sets in place a program of research that calls into question the distinction between fact and fiction. In a number of early papers, he develops two fundamental principles that render the fact/fiction distinction problematic: the first is the unknowability of Being; the second is the discursive nature of knowledge. Taken together, these principles ensure that any attempt to formulate statements of fact has to be measured on the same scale that is applied when reading poetic language. This is not to say that the notion of factuality...


      In his famous unpublished essay “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense” (1873), Nietzsche confronts the hubris of the philosophic tradition with the cold realization that the intellect may serve a biological and not spiritual function:

      The intellect as a means of preserving the individual unfolds its main powers (Hauptkräfte) in dissimulation (Verstellung); for this is the means by which the weaker, less robust individuals preserve themselves, having been denied the ability to fight for their existence with horns or the sharp teeth of a predator. In the human this art of dissimulation reaches its peak: here deception (Täuschung),...


      “Do aesthetic quasi-emotions [Scheingefühle] exist?” (191),¹ the German philosopher Moritz Geiger asks in the opening part of a lecture delivered at the first Kongreß für Ästhetik und allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft, a largescale gathering of aestheticians, psychologists, and art historians held in Berlin in 1913.² The question he poses in this manner is, to be sure, a rhetorical one, for Geiger himself has no doubt that the object of his inquiry – conceived as a particular class of psychological responses to aesthetic stimuli – is, in fact, empirically “real.” And he proceeds to dispel any potential uncertainty on the part of his audience by...

  5. Part IV Relating:: Biology

      In 1782, Johann Christoph Adelung coined the namecultural historyfor a phenomenon recently put into practice by Johann Gottfried Herder. In theTreatise on the Origin of Language(1772) and again two years later inThis Too a Philosophy of History for the Formation of Humanity, Herder embeds “culture” in a list of characteristics that define a particular people in a particular age and that vary over time: “arts, science, culture and language” (italics in the original).¹ Culture as a concept, in other words, was largely concomitant with its historicization. It would be anachronistic, however, either to think of...


      At the end of E. M. Forster’sThe Longest Journey(1907), Rickie Elliot is killed by a train as he saves his half-brother Stephen by pushing him off the rails. It is, John Colmer exclaims, an “extraordinary” ending (“The Longest Journey” 63), and it has been criticized for too neatly resolving a convoluted plot and for cavalierly disposing of its protagonist. Even queer theorists, who have so radically reread and contextualized the plot’s apparent incoherencies, see Rickie’s sacrifice as a betrayal of the text’s queerness. Accepting these concerns, this chapter takes a new look at the novel, attending to its...

  6. Part V Displaying:: Scientific Collections
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This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 3.0 International.
Funding is provided by Knowledge Unlatched