Article ID: CBB000340826

The “Philosophical Grasp of the Appearances” and Experimental Microscopy: Johannes Müller's Microscopical Research, 1824--1832 (2003)


Romantic Naturphilosophie has been at the centre of almost every account of early nineteenth-century sciences, be it as an obstacle or as an aid for scientific advancement. The following paper suggests a change of perspective. I seek to read Naturphilosophie as one manifestation among others of a more general concern with the question of how experience enables the subject to acquire knowledge about objects. To illustrate such an approach, I focus on Johannes Müller's early work. Here one finds two contrasting images of microscopical observation, its set-up, and the observer: the embryological study of 1830 demands a `philosophical grasp' of the appearances. In contrast, the investigations of blood of 1832 are presented as a series of controlled experiments. I argue that an interpretation of this contrast in terms of an appropriation and casting aside of Naturphilosophie is not altogether convincing. Instead, both images of microscopy are manifestations of a more general problem, namely, the problem of exactly how subject and object came together in experience. I show how this concern not only shaped the methodological sensibilities particular to Müller's embryology and the investigation of bodily liquids but also provided the epistemological principles and the target for his sense-physiological experiments. It bound Müller's work together with Naturphilosophie and linked Naturphilosophie with other contemporaneous projects in philosophy. All of these enterprises sought to contribute to ongoing debates about how experience allowed the subject to acquire knowledge about the world.


Description Explores how Naturphilosophie and experience enables objective knowledge.

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Authors & Contributors
Schickore, Jutta
Finger, Stanley
Wade, Nicholas J.
Goldstein, Amanda Jo
Butler, Judith
Largier, Niklaus
Journal of the History of the Neurosciences
Perspectives on Science
Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences
British Journal for the History of Philosophy
Journal of the History of Ideas
Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
Cambridge University Press
Harvard University
University of California, Berkeley
Oxford University Press
University of Chicago Press
Senses and sensation; perception
Theories of knowledge
Müller, Johannes Peter
Helmholtz, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von
Blake, William
Wordsworth, William
Coleridge, Samuel Taylor
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
20th century
United States
Great Britain
École Normale Supérieure, Paris
Société française de physique
Université de France

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