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.

Citation URI

Similar Citations

Thesis Goldstein, Amanda Jo; (2011)
“Sweet Science”: Romantic Materialism and the New Sciences of Life (/isis/citation/CBB001567306/) unapi

Book Meijer, Miriam Claude; (1999)
Race and Aesthetics in the Anthropology of Petrus Camper (1722-1789) (/isis/citation/CBB000503286/) unapi

Article Huneman, Philippe; (2006)
Naturalising Purpose: From Comparative Anatomy to the “Adventure of Reason” (/isis/citation/CBB000770746/) unapi

Article Anderson, Gemma; (2014)
Endangered: A Study of Morphological Drawing in Zoological Taxonomy (/isis/citation/CBB001201296/) unapi

Book Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; Miller, Gordon L.; (2009)
The Metamorphosis of Plants (/isis/citation/CBB001020400/) unapi

Article Steigerwald, Joan; (2002)
Goethe's Morphology: Urphänomene and Aesthetic Appraisal (/isis/citation/CBB000200420/) unapi

Book Holland, Jocelyn; (2009)
German Romanticism and Science: The Procreative Poetics of Goethe, Novalis, and Ritter (/isis/citation/CBB001221163/) unapi

Chapter Steinle, Friedrich; (2005)
“Das Nächste ans Nächste reihen”: Goethe, Newton und das Experiment (/isis/citation/CBB001033928/) unapi

Article MacDonald, Helen; (2007)
A Scandalous Act: Regulating Anatomy in a British Settler Colony, Tasmania 1869 (/isis/citation/CBB000771373/) unapi

Article Lucia Borrelli; Mariailaria Verderame; (2021)
Malformed skulls from criminal Anthropology: a preliminary study on the Cranioteca of the Anthropology Museum of Naples (/isis/citation/CBB573820947/) unapi

Article Santiago Giménez-Roldán; (2016)
Paul Broca’s Search for Basque Skulls: The Full Story (/isis/citation/CBB496869593/) unapi

Book Giacomoni, Paola; (1993)
Le forme e il vivente: Morfologia e filosofia della natura in J.W. Goethe (/isis/citation/CBB000046832/) unapi

Article Schweitzer, Frank; (1992)
Goethes Morphologie-Konzept und die heutige Selbstorganisation-Theorie (/isis/citation/CBB000061099/) unapi

Article Portmann, Adolf; (1973)
Goethe und der Begriff der Metamorphose (/isis/citation/CBB000023334/) unapi

Book Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von; (1977)
Zur Morphologie, von den Anfängen bis 1795: Ergänzungen und Erläuterungen. Bearbeitet von Kuhn, Dorothea (/isis/citation/CBB000023098/) unapi

Authors & Contributors
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von
Butler, Judith
Largier, Niklaus
Francois, Anne-Lise
Wenzel, Manfred
Portmann, Adolf
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
Science and art
Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von
Kant, Immanuel
Newton, Isaac
Darwin, Charles Robert
Hansen, Karl Adolph
Chamberlain, Houston Stewart
Tasmania (Australia)
Great Britain
Naples (Italy)
19th century
18th century
17th century
20th century, early
Royal College of Surgeons, London

Be the first to comment!

{{ comment.created_by.username }} on {{ comment.created_on | date:'medium' }}

Log in or register to comment