I. The Concept of the Course

It will be worthwhile to begin with a few words about the concept of this seminar and, in particular, its connection to UT Environmental Semester.  Certainly, it is not hard to see connections between the Faust story and environmental issues, for Dr. Faust, the man who sacrifices his soul for material well-being and enjoyment, is easily interpreted as a symbol of modern industry, technology, and economy, which use knowledge to dominate nature for our benefit.  Many new technologies, from atomic energy to genetic engineering to the internet, seem to have the characteristics of a Faustian bargain, and we dwellers in the First and Second Worlds are often described as Faustian men and women.  However, Goethe's insights into our relation with nature go much deeper.

Although best known as a novelist, dramatist, and poet, Goethe considered his scientific work to  be more important than his literary activities, but his conception of science was quite different from ours, for his approach to nature was empathetic, participatory, and holistic rather than analytic, observational, and reductive.  As a result Goethean science has emerged as a possible foundation for a twenty-first century renewal of natural science and as a basis for an environmentally-sensitive technology.

Goethe's approach to natural science also permeates his epic drama, Faust, on which he worked for more than 60 years.  It is relevant to environmental concerns because, in addition to the theme of the Faustian bargain, it also depicts Faust's evolving relationship with the feminine, both immanent and transcendent, and thus suggests a different, post-patriarchal orientation for science and technology.

Therefore, in this seminar we will read selections from Goethe's Faust (in English) and from his scientific writings, and weave around them a critical dialogue about our relationship to nature, science, and technology, now and in the future.  Among the Faustian technologies we will consider are nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and germ-line genetic engineering.

It is also interesting that there were environmentalist and feminist issues in the background of the Faust legend even before Goethe got a hold of it.  Therefore, to help you to understand the context of the Faust story, I make a few remarks about the philosophy of nature in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, just after the historical Dr. Faustus lived and the legend began.

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Last updated: 2005-01-13.