Theory of science in the light of Goethe's science of nature

Inquiry 15 (1-4):363 – 386 (1972)
Abstract
J. W. Goethe is well known as one of the world's greatest poets. Some are also aware that throughout his long and active life Goethe devoted much of his time to natural science. His theory of colour and studies in the morphology of plants are acknowledged contributions in their fields. What is much less known is that in his scientific work Goethe was attempting to elaborate and justify a new basic methodology for the natural sciences. He opposed and wished to refute the one-sided quantitative-mechanistic method which had been dominant since Galileo and Newton (and in principle still prevails today) and to set up against it a qualitative method. An essential characteristic of this qualitative method, according to Goethe, is that it is immune to a Humean reduction of the status of 'natural laws' to mere hypotheses. This claim makes Goethe's view directly relevant for current discussion of such questions as the status of scientific 'laws' and the correct method of theory construction. The present essay tries to show the fruitfulness of Goethe's view for such discussions, partly by means of an exposition of the view — drawn from various works — and partly by drawing consequences from it which bring it into direct contact with contemporary discussions in philosophy of science.
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