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Ronald H. Brady Archive

Photo of Professor Ronald H. Brady in his study

Throughout his productive scholarly career, Ronald Brady concerned himself with the philosophical foundations and practice of phenomena-centered science. He made substantial contributions to the study of evolutionary morphology and systematics, while also pursuing fundamental issues in epistemology. His 1987 elucidation of “Form and Cause in Goethe’s Morphology” may count among the most decisively revealing biological papers of the past several decades — one that the science has yet to catch up with.

At the time of his death on March 27, 2003, Brady was a professor of philosophy teaching in the School of American and International Studies at Ramapo College, Mahwah, New Jersey, having joined the school’s faculty in 1972. An Affiliate Researcher at The Nature Institute during his later years, he was also a member of SENSRI, an organization in Saratoga Springs, New York, devoted to phenomena-centered research.

Brady told this story about his undergraduate days:

When I began college as a chemistry major my enthusiasm for science was somewhat dampened by meeting a professor of chemistry who pointed out the difference between my own goals and those he, as an experienced professional, would call mature. My passion, he noted, was entirely focused on direct experience — my sense of chemical change was invested in sensible qualities: in smells, colors, the effervescence of liquids, the appearance of precipitates, the light and violence of flame, etc. But, he countered, this was probably closer to medieval alchemy than to chemistry. The latter is really a matter of molecular and atomic events of which we can have only a theoretical grasp, and the sensible experience on which my excitement centered was secondary ... I was reminded of him when I spoke to a morphologist at Berkeley about my interest in Goethe’s attempt to approach science by keeping to direct experience. The morphologist responded: “You are interested in this approach because you are a Nature appreciator, while I am a productive scientist.” It is always nice to see where one stands.

We think Ron would agree that much of his career was devoted to understanding the views of those college mentors — and also recognizing their limitations.


Science, Art, and the Theory of Knowledge

“Perception: Connections Between Art and Science”, a paper originally presented as an invited paper, “Perception and Hypotheses of Perception” at a conference sponsored by the British Museum of Natural History (London, April 4-7, 2000). What is the role of thinking (“intentionality”) in the perceived world?

Being on Earth: Practice In Tending the Appearances (2006), a book by Georg Maier, Ronald Brady, and Stephen Edelglass. Brady’s chapters are entitled “Direct Experience” (chapter 1), “Intentionality” (chapter 4), and “Manifestation from Inside Out” (chapter 8).

“Mind, Models and Cartesian Observers: A Note on Conceptual Problems” (1981), reprinted from Journal of Social and Biological Structures vol. 4, no. 3 (July), pp. 277-86. In this response to an article by Alex Comfort, Brady suggests that the “Cartesian split” between mind and matter was the result of Descartes’ failure to realize the full implications of his assertion, “I think, therefore I am”. Overcoming this failure could lead to a healing of the mind-matter dichotomy so prevalent in western culture.

“Getting Rid of Metaphysics” (2001), reprinted (with revisions by the author) from Elemente der Naturwissenschaft. Here Brady argues that, because science fails to recognize the mind’s participation in the world it investigates, “scientific thinking is limited to a form of thought that cannot question its own premises”.

“Goethe’s Natural Science: Some Non-Cartesian Meditations” (1977), reprinted from Toward a Man-Centered Science (vol. 1 of the series, “A New Image of Man in Medicine”), edited by Karl E. Schaefer, Herbert Hensel and Ronald Brady. Mt. Kisco NY: Futura Publishing Company. Brady shows that when we cognize an activity, “it is impossible to place [that activity] beyond the thinking that refers to it, for the activity we cognize is the intentional activity by which we cognize it. Activity simply refuses to stand over and against the thinker ...”

“How We Make Sense of the World: A Study in Rudolf Steiner’s Epistemological Work” (posthumous), published here for the first time. The issues Brady discusses are fundamental for all science — and, indeed, for all inquiry into the character of the world we live in. Brady’s way of expressing himself in this treatise — originally intended as an introduction to a collection of writings on epistemology — is often compressed and dense with meaning, but the rewards for diligent study are high.

Form and Cause in Biology

“Form and Cause in Goethe’s Morphology” (1987), reprinted from Goethe and the Sciences: A Reappraisal, edited by F. Amrine, F. J. Zucker, and H. Wheeler, pp. 257-300. Dordrecht, Holland: D. Reidel. What is the character of the dynamic form through which we recognize and categorize organisms? As Brady shows in a magisterial treatment, every fully contextualized organic form leads us to a unified whole (not to be confused with a physical body) that is its own causal explanation.

● For a highly accessible summary of, and commentary upon, Brady’s discussion of form and cause in biology, see “How Does an Organism Get Its Shape? The Causal Role of Biological Form”, by Stephen L. Talbott.

See also the articles under Evolution and Systematics below.

Evolution and Natural Selection

“Dogma and Doubt” (1982), reprinted from Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. This paper explores the role of evidence and belief in the doctrine of natural selection. Along the way, it clarifies the frequent charge that the theory of natural selection is tautological. See also “Natural Selection and The Criteria by Which a Theory Is Judged”, below.

“Natural Selection and The Criteria by Which a Theory Is Judged” (1979), reprinted from Systematic Biology vol. 28, pp. 600-21. This decisively important paper remains crucially relevant to discussions of evolutionary theory today. Brady reviews — and casts a flood of light upon — the problem of the testability of natural selection — a problem often confused with the issue of tautology. This article covers much of the same territory as “Dogma and Doubt”, but with a wealth of fresh observation and commentary.

Evolution and Biogeography

“The Global Patterns of Life: A New Empiricism in Biogeography” (1989), reprinted from Gaia and Evolution (Proceedings of the Second Annual Camelford Conference on the Implications of the Gaia Thesis), edited by Peter Bunyard and Edward Goldsmith. This essay disentangles the role of observational evidence and “pseudo-phenomenal events” in biogeographical explanations. (Biogeography is the study of the distribution of the ranges of plants and animals.)

Evolution and Systematics

“Explanation, Description, and the Meaning of ‛Transformation’ in Taxonomic Evidence” (1994), reprinted from Models in Phylogeny Reconstruction, edited by Robert W. Scotland, Darrell J. Siebert, and David M. Williams.

“On the Independence of Systematics” (1985), reprinted from Cladistics vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 113-26. Systematics — the science that recovers the systematic patterns observed in taxonomic groups — gives us the observational data that an evolutionary theory must explain, and that Darwin attempted to explain. When, counter to Darwin’s approach, the proposed explanation is made a basis for articulating the patterns, then the basis for an independent assessment of the theory’s explanations is lost.

“Parsimony, Hierarchy, and Biological Implications” (1983), reprinted from Advances in Cladistics vol. 2. Proceedings of the Second Meeting of the Willi Hennig Society. Edited by Norman I. Platnick and V. A. Funk, pp. 49-60. New York: Columbia University Press.

“Pattern Description, Process Explanation, and the History of the Morphological Sciences” (1994), reprinted from Interpreting the Hierarchy of Nature: From Systematic Patterns to Evolutionary Process Theories edited by Lance Grande and Olivier Rieppel, pp. 7-31. San Diego CA: Academic Press.

“Theoretical Issues and ‘Pattern Cladistics’” (1982), reprinted from Systematic Zoology vol. 31, no. 3, pp. 286-91. Here Brady takes issue with philosopher of biology, John Beatty, who claims that the pattern cladists’ search for morphological patterns, and for hierarchical groupings of patterns, among organisms past and present is antagonistic to standard evolutionary explanations. Brady concludes that Beatty’s argument actually adds further support for the work undertaken by pattern cladists.

See also “Form and Cause in Goethe’s Morphology” above.

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