THE HEDGEHOG, THE FOX, AND THE MAGISTER’S POX by Stephen Jay Gould
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THE HEDGEHOG, THE FOX, AND THE MAGISTER’S POX

Mending the Gap Between Science and the Humanities

KIRKUS REVIEW

The late paleontologist is in full and eloquent posthumous voice as he laments a false dichotomy that has pitted science against the humanities, including religion and ethics, since the 17th century.

To illustrate the dichotomy, Gould (Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville, see below) cites a Greek proverb and Erasmus’s exegesis on it, which has the clever fox (read: humanities scholars) employing many cunning behavioral strategies, while the hedgehog (read: scientist) plods along with a single, albeit very effective strategy (curling up in a motionless ball with only its spiny backside showing). To make his case, the author cites his beloved collection of early natural-history texts, including one that inspired the present volume, a 16th-century omnigatherium on terrestrial mammals. It is this work that bears the marks of the Magister’s pox: the Church censor left the text alone, but suppressed the names of the author and of Erasmus as iconoclasts who were not shining models of Catholic orthodoxy. Gould uses his textual evidence both to illustrate the fusion of science and the humanities (Nabokov is a case in point) as well as to show that the words of this or that influential author (e.g., C.P. Snow) could light the dichotomous flames. Somewhat apologetically, he argues that turf wars have played a role in setting up the contrast: Renaissance scholars were loathe to surrender their territory to fledgling experimenters, who similarly fought to keep their newfound ground. As well, he suggests, there may be a human brain-based propensity to think in these terms. In the concluding chapters Gould takes strong exception to E.O.Wilson’s arguments in Consilience that the humanities ought to be subsumed under science. No way can or should this happen, Gould argues, among other reasons because science can never move from what is to what ought to be. He urges instead a “consilience of equal regard,” understanding “the absolute necessity of both domains to any life deemed intellectually and spiritually ‘full.’ ”

Gould, who lived and died exemplifying that sort of consilience, clearly has the last word.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-609-60140-7
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Harmony
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2003




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