Instructors: Richard F. Haglund, Jr. (Physics) and John A. McCarthy (German)
Wilson , T/R 1:10-2:25

This course is premised on the conviction that science and the arts are constantly influencing one another in the way we conceive the world and formulate our questions as we investigate it from various vantage points: empirical investigation, philosophical interrogation, mythical explanation. Our purpose is not to conflate these diverse sets of subdisciplines, but rather to draw attention how they frequently go hand in hand. The main text in the course will be Goethe's masterpiece, Faust. Parts I and II (1831), which occupied his creative attention for more than sixty years. It thus mirrors the cultural, historical, and scientific developments from ca. 1770 -1830. A second literary text, Goethe's novel, Elective Affinities (1809), will be included since it was modeled on chemical and botanical phenomena. Collateral readings will be drawn from science, alchemy, the history of art, and philosophy to elucidate the numerous allusions in these two works and to deepen the student's understanding of the two central texts, Faust. These auxiliary readings will range from Goethe's own Nature, The Experiment as Mediator between Object and Subject, On Granite, Toward a Theory of Weather, The Spiral Tendency in Plants, excerpts from The Metamorphosis of Plants and from Theory of Color to Newton's Optics, E.F.Chladni's acoustically produced figures, Sir Humphrey Davy's experiments with electrolysis, Carl Linnaeus's studies in taxonomy, and Darwin's Origins of Species.


Guiding Themes:
  -  Science and ethics.
  -  Nature and politics .
  -  Philosophy of science .
  -  Science and religion.
  -  Nature and art.
  -  Evolution and morphology .
  -  Science and mythology .

Portrait of Goethe by Tischbein (1787)

Goethe's interest in science dates from the mid 1980's when, as minister of mines in the Duchy of Saxony‑Weimar, he began his geological studies. These later expanded to include meteorological investigations (esp. cloud formation), optics, color theory, morphology, and evolutionary theory. His historical studies on science reached back to Greek antiquity and pointed forward to 19th‑ century evolutionary theory. Goethe considered his Theory of Colors, in which he took issue with Newtonian optics, to be his greatest achievement.  

All students will write three short papers of 3-4 pages on assigned topics (one of which will be derived from a group study project), write a mid-term examination and submit an expanded research project in written and/or visual form (topics and length to be discussed with the instructors).  

The University honor code obtains throughout.

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Copyright: Dept. of Physics, Vanderbilt University
Last Modified: 8/27/2003