THE HEDGEHOG, THE FOX, AND THE MAGISTER'S POX: Mending the Gap Between Science and the Humanities

Stephen Jay Gould, Author . Harmony $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-609-60140-2

The same artful brew of miscellany with which Gould treated readers of Natural History magazine for 30 years is again pressed into service in this volume, which the famous Harvard evolutionary biologist finished shortly before his death in May 2002. Gould's point of departure is the Greek soldier-poet Archilochus' proverb about the cunning fox versus the persistent hedgehog, which the author employs to exemplify what he asserts is the proper relationship between the sciences and the humanities—they are separate but equal players, he says, in the joint enterprise of wisdom. In his inimitable style, Gould mines rare and idiosyncratic sources to debunk the common notion of science and the humanities (which includes religion in Gould's taxonomy) as mortal foes. But in the end it amounts to a broadside at E.O. Wilson, whose 1998 book, Consilience, posited a reductionist model of the disciplines joined in a kind of Chain of Being, with particle physics on one end, ethics and religion on the other, and biology somewhere in between. Admitting his annoyance that Wilson got to the term first, Gould argues that consilience (a word originated by the philosopher of science William Whewell in 1840) more correctly applies to his own theory than Wilson's. While this book is a fine read, rich with learning and insight, it has its cryptic, unreadable moments, possibly because Gould's publisher—out of respect for the deceased author, it said—decided to issue the book largely untampered with except for copyediting changes. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 02/17/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
Genre: Nonfiction
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