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Fabian Kraemer – The Two Cultures Avant La Lettre: The Sciences and the Humanities in the Nineteenth Century

November 30, 2016, 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm

Speaker: Fabian Kraemer, Assistant Professor of History, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München

Few beliefs about the nature of academic knowledge seem to be less problematic and are more deeply ingrained than is the assumption that a wide gulf divides the sciences and the humanities. But like many of the other dichotomies that characterize modernity, this binary opposition is younger than we tend to think. The emergence of the modern bifurcation of academic knowledge constituted one of the most fundamental transformations in the history of knowledge. It changed the very notion of what knowledge is and should be. It has since been expected to pertain either to the human or natural realms, which are governed by fundamentally different principles and hence, have to be studied separately.

By the end of the nineteenth century and long before the physical chemist and novelist C.P. Snow famously coined the phrase “two cultures”, most contemporaries agreed that there were two types of academic knowledge, separated by their objects, methods, epistemology, and goals. According to the philosopher-historian Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911), for instance, the sciences (Naturwissenschaften) and the humanities (Geisteswissenschaften) study different phenomena to different ends: while the sciences strive to causally explain (erklären) things in nature, the humanities aim at an interpretive understanding (verstehen) of the expressions of human life. The very term Geisteswissenschaften was then a relatively recent invention. The paper will trace the emergence of this dichotomy with a particular focus on the German academic system in the nineteenth century.

This event is free and open to the public.
This event is part of the New York History of Science Lecture Series.

Sponsoring Organizations:
New York University
Gallatin School of Individualized Study
Columbia University in the City of New York
City University of New York
The New York Academy of Sciences
The New York Academy of Medicine


November 30, 2016
6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
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