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Goethean Science: A Book Review
Stephen L. Talbott

(The following review appeared in Worldviews, vol. 5, pp. 105-110.)

Review of Goethe's Way of Science: A Phenomenology of Nature (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1998). 324 pages + preface (2 pages) + front matter. See SUNY Press listing for book.

The more sympathetic introductions to Goethe's scientific works usually begin something like this:

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) is best known for his poetry and plays, described by many literary critics as some of the most perceptive and evocative imaginative literature ever written. Fewer people realize, however, that Goethe also produced a sizable body of scientific work that focused on such diverse topics as plants, color, clouds, weather, morphology, and geology. Goethe believed that these studies, rather than his literary work, would some day be recognized as his greatest contribution to humankind.
That, in fact, is the opening paragraph of Goethe's Way of Science: A Phenomenology of Nature. To lead readers from this modest opening to anything like a full appreciation of Goethean science is a massive undertaking. Actually, it is an impossible one, since what is true of the practice of Goethean science is also true of the attempt to grasp what G