Goethe, Faust, and Science

UH 348 - Honors Seminar - Spring 2005

Classes: 2:10-3:25 Thursdays in Claxton Addition 202  [UTK Environmental Semester]


Bruce MacLennan, PhD
Phone: 974-5067
Office: Claxton Complex 217
Office Hours: 3:30-5:30 T & Th, or make an appointment
Email: maclennan@cs.utk.edu
This course is offered in conjunction with UTK's Environmental Semester.



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.  Faust, who sacrifices his soul for "the good life," is often interpreted as a symbol of modern industry, technology, and economy, which use knowledge to dominate nature for our benefit, but the drama, especially the enigmatic Part II, 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.

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.


  1. Goethe, Faust (Parts I & II), tr. Arndt, 2nd ed., Norton Critical Edition, 2000.  ISBN: 0393972828.
  2. Goethe, Goethe on Science: An Anthology of Goethe's Scientific Writings, ed. J. Naydler, Floris Books, 1997.  ISBN: 0863152376.

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Last updated: 2005-04-21.