Past Event

True Science: Leo Tolstoy and Popular Science in Late Imperial Russia

November 9, 2023
12:15 PM - 2:00 PM
Event time is displayed in your time zone.
Online and in-person: Heyman Center (Second Floor Common Room), Columbia University, New York

Event Description

This talk examines Leo Tolstoy’s philosophy of science in his non-fiction essays and literary works. Tolstoy methodically rejected an exclusively positivist worldview, arguing that it was detrimental to Russia’s social development. Instead, the writer formulated an idea of socially functional science—a “true” science—whose goal was to promote ethical and moral values for popular audiences. This instrumentalized vision of science was adopted by prominent popular science journals, such as the empire’s most successful outlet, Around the World, which used Tolstoy’s ideas in order to marry public perceptions of scientific progress with Russian imperialism and exceptionalism. In this way, Tolstoy’s vision of science as capable of pursuing humanistic and socially conservative ends fueled the emergence of radicalized popular science and the development of scientific exceptionalism in Russia.

Event Information

Free and open to the public; registration required. For more information, please visit the event webpage or email [email protected]. Please visit the Heyman’s Center website for directions. 

Hosted by the Society of Fellows and Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University.