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5 - Goethe and the ethos of science

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 November 2009

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Summary

If ultimately I rest content with the Urphenomenon, it is, after all, but a kind of resignation; yet it makes a great difference whether I resign myself at the boundaries of humanity, or within a hypothetical narrowness of my small-minded individuality.

– Goethe (MR, no. 577)

Urphenomenality and the basis of science

The Opticks spurred the growth of eighteenth-century experimental science by teaching investigators to see theoretically, mathematicophysically. Both the Opticks and the Principia provided decisive paradigms for exploring in detail the substructures of everyday appearances. The Opticks in particular showed how from within the bewildering, apparently arbitrary domain of colors one could gain virtually self-evident mathematicophysical knowledge about the nature of light and colors by fusing the way of experiment with mathematical demonstration. Thenceforth, wherever the physicist saw light, he also saw geometrically conceived color rays. The eye became little more than a passive detector, even an undependable one, for it could be deceived when it was fatigued or when the rays were mixed with one another.

Almost every early nineteenth-century critic of Goethe's Zur Farbenlehre had been initiated into this kind of seeing and took for granted the factuality of Newton's interpretation (indeed, Goethe complained that not just physicists but also almost every intelligent layman had been indoctrinated as well; see LA I, 3: 116).

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Chapter
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Goethe contra Newton
Polemics and the Project for a New Science of Color
, pp. 174 - 195
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1988

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