Goethe on Science, a Book Review

by Rosemary Tayler

In my opinion, Jeremy Naydler has done a fantastic job compiling this well-organized, timeless classic of scientific writings by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe(1749-1832). At the outset, Naydler sets his intention by dedicating this book “to all those who love nature and are seeking to deepen their awareness of the natural world.”

Each of the 10 chapters carries a theme. For example, Chapter 2 is titled “Observation of Nature is Limitless.” The dozen or more selected readings for each chapter are excerpts from a wide range of Goethe's writings, including his poetry, his books, and his letters to colleagues and dear friends. Each of the readings themselves are short enough to be easily assimilated and yet deep enough to be contemplated for their profound wisdom and truth.

Naydler introduces the chapter themes with insightful comments and context. Hearing this echo, so to speak, as well as Goethe's original voice, makes for a deeper, more meaningful understanding of each of the passages.

In Chapter 4, Naydler explores qualitative and quantitative aspects of scientific knowledge. Goethe strongly upholds that the non-mathematical aspects of nature, namely its qualitative values, have priority over its quantitative or mathematical calculations. This holistic approach to science is often overlooked or ignored. Goethe reminds us that the path to working with nature requires that we “must use all [our] powers of love, respect and reverence to find [our] way into Nature and the sacred life of Nature irrespective of what mathematics does.”

What I particularly enjoyed about this book is that each chapter is self-contained. When I first picked it up off my shelf, I started reading the chapters at the back and eagerly moved toward the front.

After reading and even re-reading this anthology, I now understand how Rudolf Steiner like so many others, shared and continue to share a deep appreciation for Goethe and his critical thinking.
Goethe on Science: An Anthology of Goethe's Scientific Writings Selected by Jeremy Naydler. Floris Books (2009)

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