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

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

Stephen Jay Gould

Language: English

Pages: 288

ISBN: 0609601407

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

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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understanding of origins can’t reveal the nature of current utility in any case, even if our study were confined entirely within the empirical realm. In other words, I agree with Wilson on the evolutionary origin of ethics, but this issue sits on an irrelevant periphery of the great moral debates in the history of scholarship and human life—non-empirical questions about the meaning of existence and the definition of goodness that science can help us to illuminate and usefully constrain, but that

improvement on an even more important social question (leaving ever so much room for further melioration), I well remember the words of my egalitarian father when, in 1950 or so, I saw a young mixed-race couple walking hand in hand down the streets of Manhattan (scarcely a segregationist bailiwick), and I gawked at a sight I had never seen before: “Steve, don’t feel guilty that you stared in surprise. Some day, as the world improves, such a mixture will seem no more strange than a romantic

pairing of a blonde and a brunette.” My dad, something of a Pollyanna, rarely predicted social change with accuracy, but I am glad that he made a correct forecast in this case. 10 Biologists, in their narrowness, often think that their inventions, so cleverly contrived, have then spread to other disciplines—whereas, in reality, we have usurped someone else’s innovation or terminology. In my favorite example, Linnaeus awarded the name Primates—meaning “first” in Latin—to the mammalian order of

we must firmly reject the common, yet utterly false, inference that science itself, by its very nature, must be irreligious, immoral, or inherently opposed to aesthetic urges and sensibilities. Science operates in the different domain of factual understanding. Any full human life (the hedgehog’s one true way of wisdom) must be enriched by all these independent dimensions, and their fecund interactions: ethical, aesthetic, spiritual, and scientific (the fox’s range of independent and necessary

predisposed biologically to make certain choices. By cultural evolution some of the choices are hardened into precepts, then laws, and if the predisposition or coercion is strong enough, a belief in the command of God or the natural order of the universe. The general empiricist principle takes this form: Strong innate feeling and historical experience cause certain actions to be preferred; we have experienced them, and weighed their consequences, and agree to conform with codes that express them.

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