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Hans Christian Ørsted's Spiritual Interpretation Of Natural Science

  • Frederick Gregory
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Part of the Boston Studies In The Philosophy Of Science book series (BSPS, volume 241)

This paper began as something different from what it has turned out to be. I began by thinking I would try to show what aspects of Schelling’s work were influential in shaping Ørsted’s understanding of science and religion, suspecting that it was Schelling and not Kant who was important here. I will do some of that; in fact, I now think both Kant and Schelling were significant influences, although in different ways. But what I found myself really doing as I proceeded was thinking about Ørsted’s uniqueness, and that led me to think more about ways that Ørsted reflected wider issues in the development of science during the first half of the 19th century. To begin with, Ørsted’s career spanned a most amazing period, from the beginning of the century to its midpoint. The changes in German science in this period, to say nothing of the changes in the German states themselves, were profound.

Keywords

Natural Science General Truth Scientific Materialism Fossil Bone Religious Sense 
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References

  1. 1.
    Cardwell reports that the German professor H. M. Jacobi’s 1835 paper describing a rotating electromagnet with two fixed electromagnets around it and a commutator to reverse current was translated into the major European languages and attracted widespread attention, in part because of the lack in theory of an upper limit to the speed of rotation that might be produced. He writes: “A near-infinite velocity suggested a near-infinite power”. Donald S. L. Cardwell, James Joule. A Biography (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989), pp. 23–24.Google Scholar
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    As reported by Jones in Koch, Grundtvig, p. xii.Google Scholar
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    “Christianity and Astronomy”, in The Soul in Nature, p. 436. This essay, indicated as taken from the Danish Popular Journal of 1837, is not included in the original German edition.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    Ibid. p. 443. The verse is II Corinthians 3:6.Google Scholar
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  19. 19.
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  23. 23.
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  38. 38.
    Fries credited Schelling with this insight and frequently emphasized its importance by printing in large letters the words “NATURE IS AN ORGANIZED WHOLE”. Cf., for example, Fries’s Reinhold, Fichte und Schelling [1803] in Sämtliche Schriften (Aalen: Scientia Verlag, 1969ff), XXIV, pp. 179–180. Ørsted too identified Schelling’s genius and contribution with his seeing nature as a single organism. See quotation of Ørsted’s 1807 letter to Oehlenschläger by Andrew D. Jackson, “Introduction”, Selected Scientific Works of Hans Christian Ørsted, edited by Karen Jelved, Andrew D. Jackson, and Ole Knudsen (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), p. xxv.Google Scholar
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    For a general examination of Fries in is relation to Schelling see my Die Kritik von J. F. Fries an Schellings Naturphilosophie, Sudhoffs Archiv, 67(1983), pp. 145–157, here p. 149. Cf. also Wolfgang Bonsiepen, Die Begründung einer Naturphilosophie bei Kant, Schelling, Fries und Hegel (Frankfurt:Klostermann), passim.Google Scholar
  40. 40.
    Cf. my “Romantic Kantianism and the End of the Newtonian Dream in Chemistry”, Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences, 34(1984), pp. 108–123, as well as my essays “Nature is an Organized Whole: J. F. Fries’s Neo-Kantian Reformulation of Kant’s Philosophy of Organism”, pp. 91–102 in Maurizio Bossi and Stefano Poggi, Romanticism in Science: Science in Europe 1790–1840 (Amsterdam: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1994), and “The Newtonian Vitalism of J. F. Fries”, pp. 143–155 in Guido Cimino and François Duchesneau, eds., Vitalisms from Haller to Cell Theory (Florence: Leo S. Olschki Editore, 1997). Schelling’s role is discussed in the context of his influence on Fries.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Über Geist und Studium der allgemeinen Naturlehre, Geist in der Natur, II, p. 456; ET, p. 457.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Ibid. II, p. 469; ET, p. 459.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
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  44. 44.
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  45. 45.
    See the Introduction to The Soul in Nature, pp. xvii–xviii.Google Scholar
  46. 46.
    Scientific Materialism, pp. 145–146.Google Scholar
  47. 47.
    Like Ørsted, Helmholtz opposed materialism. But he also railed against “the tyranny of spiritualistic metaphysics”. “In order to acquire the foreknowledge of what is coming … no other method is possible than that of endeavoring to arrive at the laws of facts by observations; and we can only learn them by induction, by the careful selection, collation, and observation of those cases which fall under the law”. “On Thought in Medicine”, in Hermann von Helmholtz, Science and Culture. Popular and Philosophical Essays, edited by David Cahan (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1995), p. 322.Google Scholar
  48. 48.
    See in this regard my “Extending Kant: The Origins and Nature of J. F. Fries’s Philosophy of Science”, which examines Fries’s views in light of his Moravian roots in Kant’s Scientific Legacy in the 19th Century (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), forthcoming.Google Scholar

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© Springer 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Frederick Gregory
    • 1
  1. 1.University of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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