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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harmony; 1 edition (April 8, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609601407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609601402
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #727,195 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Though this final book is not the most accessible of Stephen Jay Gould's meditations on science and culture, it is a complex and revealing look at one of the late paleontologist's great passions: the unity of human endeavor. The titular hedgehog and fox refer to the classic dichotomy of persistence opposed to agility of thought, which Gould uses as a backbone in comparing, contrasting, and balancing science and the humanities. Unlike many scientists, he does not consider humanities (nor religion) to be inferior to his discipline. Drawing liberally from Renaissance and Scientific Revolution sources, Gould shows that the perceived differences in the two cultures are mostly false. Readers of E.O. Wilson's Consilience will find many similarities here, though Gould emphatically rejects Wilson's conclusion that reductionism is an appropriate way to unite the two cultures and offers examples of when such an approach might fail.

If we discover that a majority of human cultures have favored infanticide under certain conditions, and that such a practice arose for good Darwinian reasons, shall we then claim that we have resolved the question of the rightness of such a practice with a "yea"?

This volume is presented by its editor almost unchanged from the manuscript Gould had finished shortly before his death. The result is a book with such unedited detail that its dense blend of history and philosophy is at times overwhelmingly difficult. Nevertheless, Gould's deeply held conviction that human understanding comes from all our cultural efforts shines through. --Therese Littleton

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

More About the Author

Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Professor of Geology at Harvard University. He published over twenty books, received the National Book and National Book Critics Circle Awards, and a MacArthur Fellowship.

Customer Reviews

Who knows - maybe I wouldn't be.
Joe Sharber
Gould gives some interesting, but anecdotal, examples of how the humanities and sciences could learn from each other.
Unfortunately, Gould hasn't escaped it either.
A. W. Dale

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Having read E.O. Wilson's book "Conscilience," and (seemingly) having the same blanching reaction to it that Gould did, I was hoping from the outset to give five stars to to this book. But alas, by the time I finished reading it, though I agreed with all of its major points, my conscience only let me give the book 3 stars. Here's why.

First, the book was published with little editing. This, of course, is hardly Gould's fault. While he lived to write the book (and I'm still very glad he did), he passed away before doing much editing. Be that as it may, the book would have seriously benefitted from having someone look it over. In many chapters, Gould meanders, tosses irrelevant asides, and strays regularly from promising lines of thought. That accounts for one star (that I subtract cautiously because, as i say, it is hardly Gould's fault here).

The other two stars are subtracted because of Gould's strange use of historical anecdotes. Gould, of course, is known for this and many collections of his essays find him historically preoccupied. Be that as it may, the subject of this book seemed more to demand the type of abstract and polemical discussion that Gould avowedly is trying to avoid here. Some of the anecdotes (bringing up Nabokov as a legitimate 'straddler' between science and the humanities) are great as case-bolstering asides, but many simply left me befuddled (a) as to why they were relevant; and (b) why they took up entire chapters.

The reason I dwell on the superfluity of Gould's anecdotal preoccupation is because the chapters I enjoyed most were the chapters where he hardly used anecdotes at all. One chapter finds Gould offering a mighty persuasive case that the science wars are themselves a 'social construction.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Pieter Uys HALL OF FAME on August 24, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In this posthumous publication, Gould provides a thorough historical overview of the development of scientific thought in various fields. He attempts to bridge the gap between the humanities/social sciences and the traditional idea of science as it finds expression in the natural sciences like astronomy, physics, geology etc.

The title refers to hedgehogs that establish themselves so successfully in a particular field that they can forever keep their competitors at a distance, and to foxes that in their turn spread the seed of knowledge through their genius and versatility. The fox and the hedgehog are the models of how the sciences and humanities should interact, because Gould believed that neither single strategy would work.

But a fruitful merger of these seemingly polar opposites could, with the necessary goodwill and restraint, be conjoined into a diverse but common enterprise of power and unity. The book is a plea for increased understanding between the humanities and the natural sciences.

He encourages natural scientists to improve their communication skills and to read beyond their field of specialty, and he criticizes those in the humanities who have no knowledge or understanding of the natural sciences. This can lead to the embarrassing stupidities so well documented in the book Intellectual Impostures (Fashionable Nonsense) by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont.

The Hedgehog, the Fox and the Magister's Pox is an engaging text and a stimulating read. It is accessible enough for the general reader and although not considered an example of his best writing, definitely worth a read.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By "wang52" on February 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Truly enjoy the book, a passionate humanistic scientist in action! However, I do have some problems about the logic and arguments of the book:
1. Gould contributes the initial contention between science and the humanities to the turf battle and the power struggle between the Renaissance humanism and the rise of modern science, more specifically, to the Modern vs. Ancient debate in the 17th & 18th centuries. I suspect the historical accuracy of such analysis and doubt that it has any significant impact on the contention today. Maybe Gould himself commits to a fictional dichotomy which he argues against all along.
2. It seems to me that there is a significant inconsistency between chapter 5 in which he reveals the fallacious and fictional dichotomies between science and the humanities and chapter 6 in which he admits of the real tension between scientism and the critic of scientism (see pp. 113-115). It confirms my impression that "science wars" are for real and should be taken seriously, not just extremists' paranoid illusions.
3. What bothers me the most is an apparent paradox between Gould's fundamental assumption of the epistemic status of science (a magisterium about fact or IS) and the humanities (a magisterium about value or OUGHT) on the one hand and his relentless call for integration of these two "non-overlapping magisterial" (in brief, NOMA) as his overarching goal of the book on the other. First of all, if science and the humanities belong to two non-overlapping domains of discussion with logically totally different aims, methods and objects, then how could they be integrated since there is no any commonality between them??? Gould did try to answer this charge in chapter 8 in terms of a metaphor "one from many," but without any success in my humble judgment.
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