- Thursday 12 November 2009
- 7.00pm-8.30pm – Good availability
- Lecturers: Prof Frank James Prof Helen Haste
50 years after CP Snow gave his famous lecture, The two cultures and the scientific revolution, the phrase ‘Two cultures’ has entered in to the general currency of intellectual life as shorthand for differences between the arts and the sciences.
Prof Frank James will speak about the history of the relationship of the cultures of science and the humanities, which has been discussed endlessly since at least the 1880s when Thomas Huxley and Matthew Arnold debated them. However, they were brought into sharp focus in the early 1960s due to a harshly critical and highly personalised row between the chemist turned novelist CP Snow and the literary scholar FR Leavis following Snow’s well known 1959 lecture, The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution. Much historical ink has been spilt over this row, but one aspect which is only just beginning to be studied is the role of history of science in ‘bridging’ the cultures. In the 1960s history of science departments were formed in a number of British universities and some saw this as a, if not the, solution to the two cultures problem. But the evidence does not entirely support this interpretation. For instance the department at Imperial College was first mooted in 1958 and the chair was not filled until 1963 when Rupert Hall, who first popularised the term ‘scientific revolution’ and a protégé of Snow’s in the late 1930s, was appointed. Prof James will argue that as with so much relating to this controversy, the history of science should be seen in a much longer perspective.
Prof Helen Haste will argue that C.P. Snow tried to balance the cultural and moral high ground held by the humanities by asserting not only the usefulness and social benefits of science, which everyone recognised and in which they saw moral value, but also the moral spirit of scientists and the moral purity of science as a way of knowing. Since 1959 the balance has shifted and scientists are consulted as gurus at least as much as are members of the humanities. Increasingly, evidence-based and most pertinently, supposedly “value free”, knowledge is seen as the ‘true’ source of ‘wisdom’. Both natural and social scientists are a resource for solutions to human problems – science as ‘fixer’. She will explore the paradoxes of “value freedom” within such a highly morally-charged perception of both the pursuit and purposes of science – and some resistances to it.
Dr Patricia Fara will discuss how Snow’s rigid distinction has distorted our perceptions of the past. Join these leading academics as they give their perspective on CP Snow’s famous lecture, and reflect on the academic debates that have raged ever since.
Tickets cost £8 standard, £6 concessions, £4 Ri Members.