Article ID: CBB167572957

The Aesthetic Dimension of Scientific Discovery: Finding the Inter-Maxillary Bone in Humans (2020)


This paper examines the points of disagreement between Petrus Camper and J. W. von Goethe regarding the existence of the inter-maxillary bone in humans as the link between man and the rest of nature. This historical case illustrates the fundamental role of aesthetic judgements in scientific discovery. Thus, I shall show how the eighteenth century discovery of the inter-maxillary bone in humans was largely determined by aesthetic factors—specifically, those sets of assumptions and criteria implied in the aesthetic schemata of Camper and Goethe. I argue that the relevance of scientifically ascertainable morphological properties that count as evidence for the existence of bona fide anatomical structures depend on the aesthetic schema adopted by the communities assessing the classification. At the same time, I propose and explain mechanisms by which aesthetic considerations might determine the acceptability of empirical claims about the world. Based on the reconstruction of the arguments of Camper and Goethe, I conclude that aesthetic considerations play a substantive role in both the generation and preliminary evaluation of scientific hypotheses. This paper suggests a complementary relation between the mediation of aesthetic criteria in theory choice and in scientific discovery in that while aesthetic considerations in theory choice lead to conservatism; in the context of discovery they often lead to innovation.

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Authors & Contributors
Butler, Judith
Largier, Niklaus
Francois, Anne-Lise
Wenzel, Manfred
Giacomoni, Paola
Schweitzer, Frank
Goethe Jahrbuch
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Selbstorganisation: Jahrbuch für Komplexität in den Natur-, Sozial- und Geisteswissenschaften
Medizinhistorisches Journal
Journal of the History of Biology
Social History of Medicine
MIT Press
University of California, Berkeley
Human anatomy
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von
Kant, Immanuel
Newton, Isaac
Darwin, Charles Robert
Hansen, Karl Adolph
Chamberlain, Houston Stewart
Time Periods
19th century
18th century
17th century
20th century, early
16th century
Tasmania (Australia)
Great Britain
Naples (Italy)
Royal College of Surgeons, London

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