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The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox: Mending the Gap Between Science and the Humanities - Hardcover

 
9780609601402: The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox: Mending the Gap Between Science and the Humanities
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In his final book and his first full-length original title since Full House in 1996, the eminent paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould offers a surprising and nuanced study of the complex relationship between our two great ways of knowing: science and the humanities, twin realms of knowledge that have been divided against each other for far too long.

To establish his two protagonists, Gould draws from a seventh century b.c. proverb attributed to the Greek soldier-poet Archilochus that said roughly, “The fox devises many strategies; the hedgehog knows one great and effective strategy.” While emphatically rejecting any simplistic attempt to assign either science or the humanities to one or the other of these approaches to knowledge, Gould uses this ancient concept to demonstrate that neither strategy can work alone, but that these seeming opposites can be conjoined into a common enterprise of tremendous unity and power.

In building his case, Gould shows why the common assumption of an inescapable conflict between science and the humanities (in which he includes religion) is false, mounts a spirited rebuttal to the ideas that his intellectual rival E. O. Wilson set forth in his book Consilience, and explains why the pursuit of knowledge must always operate upon the bedrock of nature’s randomness. The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister’s Pox is a controversial discourse, rich with facts and observations gathered by one of the most erudite minds of our time.

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Review:
Though this final book is not the most accessible of Stephen Jay Gould's meditations on science and culture, it is a complex and revealing look at one of the late paleontologist's great passions: the unity of human endeavor. The titular hedgehog and fox refer to the classic dichotomy of persistence opposed to agility of thought, which Gould uses as a backbone in comparing, contrasting, and balancing science and the humanities. Unlike many scientists, he does not consider humanities (nor religion) to be inferior to his discipline. Drawing liberally from Renaissance and Scientific Revolution sources, Gould shows that the perceived differences in the two cultures are mostly false. Readers of E.O. Wilson's Consilience will find many similarities here, though Gould emphatically rejects Wilson's conclusion that reductionism is an appropriate way to unite the two cultures and offers examples of when such an approach might fail.

If we discover that a majority of human cultures have favored infanticide under certain conditions, and that such a practice arose for good Darwinian reasons, shall we then claim that we have resolved the question of the rightness of such a practice with a "yea"?

This volume is presented by its editor almost unchanged from the manuscript Gould had finished shortly before his death. The result is a book with such unedited detail that its dense blend of history and philosophy is at times overwhelmingly difficult. Nevertheless, Gould's deeply held conviction that human understanding comes from all our cultural efforts shines through. --Therese Littleton

About the Author:
STEPHEN JAY GOULD was one of the most influential evolutionary biologists and acclaimed science essayists of the twentieth century. He died on May 20, 2002, at the age of sixty.

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  • PublisherHarmony
  • Publication date2003
  • ISBN 10 0609601407
  • ISBN 13 9780609601402
  • BindingHardcover
  • Edition number1
  • Number of pages288
  • Rating

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