oa Indo-Pacific Journal of Phenomenology - The delicate empiricism of Goethe : phenomenology as a rigorous science of nature
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's approach to natural scientific research has unmistakable parallels to phenomenology. These parallels are clear enough to allow one to say confidently that Goethe's delicate empiricism is indeed a phenomenology of nature. This paper examines how Goethe's criticisms of Newton anticipated Husserl's announcement of the crisis of the modern sciences, and it describes how Goethe, at a critical juncture in cultural history, addressed this emerging crisis through a scientific method that is virtually identical to the method of contemporary empirical-phenomenological research in the human sciences. Goethe's practice of science shares with phenomenology a participatory, morally-responsive, and holistic approach to the description of dynamic life-world phenomena. Delicate empiricism has its own version of the phenomenological epoché, and, like Husserl's technique of imaginative variation, it strives to disclose the essential or archetypal structure of the phenomenon through the endowment of human imagination. However, a close reading of Goethe suggests that the tendency amongst some scholars to distinguish phenomenology as human science from the natural sciences is actually a costly error which unwittingly falls prey to implicit Cartesian assumptions. Goethe, however, manages to avoid these problems by performing from the first a phenomenology of nature's sensibility.
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