Sciences And Humanities

“I was overwhelmingly dominated by two passions, a passion for science and another equally ardent passion for the humanities. … [I]t is impossible to live reasonably without science, or beautifully without arts and letters.”
– George Sarton
(quoted anonymously, 1957)[1, p.39]

The sciences and the humanities are two disciplines often discussed in opposition to each other but they both follow similar paths which include critical thinking and interdisciplinary studies. These two disciplines are each composed of even more, smaller disciplines. Scientific disciplines typically include formal sciences, natural sciences, and social sciences. Humanistic disciplines typically includes subjects like art, history, and philosophy.

Over the past two hundred years, a great number of histories of scientific endeavors have been written. As for the histories of humanistic endeavors, only minor (yet important) attempts have been made.

The History of the Sciences and Humanities

“In the field of the history of the natural sciences, overviews have been written at least since the nineteenth century (e.g. William Whewell’s well-known History of the Inductive Sciences). It may thus be surprising that no such history exists for the field of the humanities.”
– Rens Bod (2010)[1, p.7]

“The history of the humanities, or Geisteswissenschaften, lags far behind the historiography of the exact or natural sciences.”
– Michiel Leezenberg (2010)[1, p.17]

The modern sciences and humanities were founded mainly in the 19th century and up until this time there was very little difference between the two.[2, p.73] It was around this time that distinctions were established between the sciences and the humanities, between scientific research and classical texts. From there, the various divisions of the disciplines were applied retrospectively onto the past.[2, p.82] Prior to the 19th century, the sciences and humanities were inseparable, complimentary focuses. Since then, the role that the humanities played in the Scientific Revolution has become largely obscured.[2, p.84]

Today, the humanities and sciences are typically seen in contrast to one another, instead of being connected and interwoven.[3, p.27]

“…the humanities are deemed to be predicated on understanding (Verstehen), the sciences on explaining (Erklären).”
– Rens Bod, et al. (2014)[3, p.13]

Despite the influence of the idea in the above quote, the sciences and humanities developed in a complex way which isn’t accurately reflected by the model above.[3, p.13]

“…the humanities are no longer seen as the pinnacle of intellectual development but as a luxury pastime with little relevance for society and even less for economy.”
– Rens Bod, et al. (2014)[3, p.13]

Some sciences are historical in nature, such as astronomy, cosmology, geology, evolution, paleontology, and natural history.[1, p.43]

The Debate Between Disciplines

17th century – The debate about the schism between the sciences and humanities begins.[1, p.17]

c.1800 – The debate about the schism between the sciences and humanities stabilizes.[1, p.17]

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[1] – Bod, Rens, et al., editors. The Making of the Humanities: Volume 1- Early Modern Europe. Amsterdam University Press, 2010. Accessed 6 Oct. 2020.

[2] – Bod, Rens, et al., editors. The Making of the Humanities: Volume II: From Early Modern to Modern Disciplines. Amsterdam University Press, 2012. Accessed 6 Oct. 2020.

[3] – Bod, Rens, et al., editors. The Making of the Humanities: Volume III: The Modern Humanities. Amsterdam University Press, 2014. Accessed 6 Oct. 2020.

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