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.