On the Shoulder of Giants

21–23 September 2018
Glasshouse, Stourbridge, UK
On the Shoulders of Giants
The Legacy of Newton, Goethe and Turner
Practice and Theory in Art: Turner and Goethe’s Theory of Colours
Anastasia Fourel (Humboldt University of Berlin)

  • The question of the relation between theory and practice in art is often misunderstood,
    especially concerning colors. The example of Turner and his lecture on Goethe’s Theory of
    Colours can help us to conceive the nature of the problem in a more suitable way. It is often
    said that Goethe’s theory is, compared to Newton’s, more useful for painters (or dyers and
    other colour artists), or at least more relevant. Yet, neither Goethe’s nor Newton’s colour
    theory can be simply applied in the way a cooking recipe can, or analogous to behaving
    according to moral principles, or solving a scientific problem according to a certain
    methodology. Art has its own logic, and scientific theories have never been produced to
    provide a basis to aesthetical conceptions, yet alone concrete pieces of art. Nevertheless,
    artists can find inspiration in scientific theories, discuss them, or even challenge them. Turner
    nourished his thinking and therefore his art with both Newton’s and Goethe’s theories. What
    good artists and good scientists have in common is a particular sense of observation: in this
    case, the shared object of observation for Turner, Newton and Goethe is light, and the way
    colors raise from it.
  • Newton’s Experimental Proof of the Heterogeneity of Sunlight: An Iconic Proof
    Timm Lampert (Humboldt University of Berlin)

    Newton’s claim to have proven the heterogeneity of sunlight by his experimentum crucis is
    often criticized. It is argued that his proof is based on hypotheses and not inferred from the
    experiment alone. This criticism, however, applies a hypothetico-deductive analysis of
    experimental reasoning to Newton’s argument. Such an analysis is not consistent with
    Newton’s own understanding of his proof method. I will present a reconstruction of Newton’s
    proof that is intended to do justice to his understanding by analyzing his experimental proof
    as an iconic proof. The main purpose of this analysis is to explain Newton’s dictum that the
    experiment alone serves as the source of evidence from which his theorems are derived.
    On the Grammar of Nature: Looking at Goethe’s Method through Wittgenstein’s Eyes

    Marc Müller (Wuppertal University)

    Throughout his life Wittgenstein was a great admirer of Goethe’s work. He grew up with
    Goethe’s prose and poetry and later appreciated his ideas on morphology. During his final
    months he wrote his famous Remarks on Colour in which Goethe’s Farbenlehre plays a central
    role. Thus, it is certainly true to say that there is much to learn about Wittgenstein’s thinking
    from studying Goethe. However, in this presentation I will argue that the opposite is also true.
    Indeed, ignoring the chronology, I’ll attempt to show that there is more to be learnt from
    Wittgenstein about Goethe than vice versa. The reason is, roughly speaking, that Goethe
    never finished developing his method whereas Wittgenstein did, which is conspicuous when
    we regard Goethe from Wittgenstein’s position. Fortunately, with their thoughts about
    nature on one hand and the philosophy of language on the other they both trod the same
    path, so in the end we can assume where Goethe and his method about nature lead.

    Goethe and Ritter
    Olaf Müller (Humboldt University of Berlin)

    Critics of Goethe’s Farbenlehre frequently use the “Polemic Part” and its furious attacks on
    Newton’s Opticks to argue for Goethe’s incompetence in scientific matters – often, however,
    without having studied this part of the Farbenlehre. For example, Michael Duck, one of the
    two translators, claims in the introduction that “The general consensus has always been that
    Newton succeeded brilliantly […] and the scientific world was unanimous in its rejection of A
    Theory of Colours – particularly in Germany”. Contrary to Duck’s claim, scientists in Goethe’s
    day were not unanimous in their rejection. One example is the case of Johann Wilhelm Ritter
    (1776–1810), which I will focus on. As I will argue, Ritter knew Goethe’s criticism of Newton
    well. He approved of it and developed it further – with great success: Goethe’s ideas led Ritter
    to discover what is nowadays known as ultraviolet radiation; an epoch-making discovery

    Demonstration of Coloured Shadow
    Diana Pauli (Sunfields, Stourbridge)

    This presentation is based on practical demonstrations of the phenomenon of coloured
    shadows (simultaneous colour contrast), described by Goethe’s in his Farbenlehre. The effect
    of coloured light on coloured materials will first be demonstrated which will serve to help to
    understand the phenomenon of coloured shadows. Various examples of coloured shadows
    will be shown including some of Michael Wilson’s original demonstrations and slides,
    followed by an explanation of why we see them. Lastly there will be a participative exercise
    to find out to what extent we are able to control our perception of them.

    From Ontology to Description: Experiments and their Interpretation from Newton to
    Matthias Rang (Goetheanum, Dornach)

    Isaac Newton never believed he had proven his theory of light corpuscles. Indeed, he was
    more aware of the difficulties of deriving a theory from experiments than most of his
    contemporaries. Yet in his treatment he was not careful enough for Goethe; what Newton
    claimed to had proven by his experiments was for Goethe still a deficient theory. I examine
    from a physicist’s point of view how Newton prepared the ground for a modern, operational
    interpretation of experiments which was carried further by Goethe and leads from ontological
    to descriptive statements. This investigation allows an understanding of spectral phenomena
    which does no simply pass on Newtons historical interpretation but combines his innovations
    with Goethe’s in the context of recent optics.

    Wittgenstein, Goethe, and Romanticism
    Mark Rowe (University of East Anglia)

    Wittgenstein once hinted that his “cultural ideal” derived from “the time of Schumann”
    [Culture and Value:4e], and in this talk I attempt to show that many aspects of the
    philosopher’s writing which seem opaque, wilful or eccentric, become entirely
    comprehensible – indeed natural – when seen against the background of early Romanticism.
    In the main body of the talk I look at two contexts in particular: Goethe’s philosophy of
    scientific explanation; and the literary form of Goethe’s great novel, Wilhelm Meister, which
    finds its origins in the Christian historical and autobiographical tradition. I end with some
    reflections on the preface to Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, arguing that it shares
    important affinities with prefaces written by Wordsworth and Coleridge.

    Goethe, Philosophizing Science
    Dennis Sepper (University of Dallas)

    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) appeared to settle the question of his relationship
    to philosophy when he remarked that he did not possess a ‘philosophical organ’.
    Nevertheless, he clearly had an indebtedness to at least a few philosophical predecessors
    (most clearly evidenced in his reflections on science and its methods). He also had important
    relationships and even friendships with his philosophical contemporaries. In Goethe studies
    it has not been uncommon to try to tease out these relationships with and possible influences
    of/on philosophers and philosophical movements in articles and books titled on the model
    ‘Goethe and X’. The presentation will critically regard this philosophico-historiographical
    approach to Goethe and attempt to determine whether Goethe did not after all possess some
    at least minimal philosophical organ, most clearly activated by and at work in his studies of

    Broken World Epistemology: Aggregate, Totality, and Experiment
    Daniel Steuer (University of Brighton)

    For Goethe, a phenomenon was “not detached from the observer”. It was “caught up and
    entangled in his individuality”. What his essay on the experiment as mediator between object
    and subject describes is the process of disentangling this relation, and the obstacles to this
    disentanglement. Goethe’s reflections on scientific methodology are therefore not just
    conventional epistemology, they have an inseparable moral dimension to them. This may help
    to explain why Goethe called it the greatest evil in recent physics that the experiments have
    been separated off from the human body, and nature is equated with what can be measured
    by instruments. Goethe’s warnings, this paper argues, are highly relevant at time in which the
    digital paradigm increasingly obfuscates the subject-object relation.

    Can Goethe’s Farbenlehre Contradict Physics?
    Troy Vine (Humboldt University of Berlin)

    In his Remarks on Colour, Wittgenstein claims that Goethe’s Farbenlehre is “analysis of
    concepts and can neither agree with nor contradict physics”. Philosophers supportive of
    Goethe’s polemic against Newton have claimed that the Farbenlehre is not conceptual
    analysis but rather empirical science and that its attack on Newton is therefore justified
    (irrespective of whether it was successful). Philosophers who follow Wittgenstein in claiming
    that the Farbenlehre is conceptual analysis have rejected Goethe’s polemic as unjustified. In
    my presentation I will argue that even if Goethe’s Farbenlehre is conceptual analysis, it does
    not follow that the Farbenlehre cannot contradict physics. In particular, I will attempt to show
    that if the relations between colours that are explained via an empirical theory are actually
    conceptual (e.g. the order of the spectral colours), then an empirical theory is redundant and
    Goethe was right to think that his investigation can replace parts of Newton’s Opticks.

    A Question about Green

    Jonathan Westphal (Hamden, New Haven, CT. USA)
    There is a well-known difficulty about Goethe’s explanation of the presence of green in the
    spectrum. The explanation that Goethe gives is that the green derives from the optical mixing
    of two edge-spectra. The edge-spectra are transposed images of the aperture, and they are
    present at the light-dark borders of its image on the screen. Some commentators have taken
    this to be an error on Goethe’s part, since the optical mixing of blue and yellow in fact yields
    white. (The screen has to be white, of course, for this to be true.) Michael Wilson himself took
    the phenomenon of green in the spectrum to be observational fact, which it is. The question
    I wish to consider is what the explanation is. Here Goethe seems to be wrong. But is he? I
    offer a remark from Wilson and some suggestions of possible experiments to expand the
    range of the possibilities of the explanation of the phenomenon.

    Pursuing Colours and Newton’s and Goethe’s trajectories of research
    Gábor Zemplén (Budapest University of Science and Technology)

    The presentation will investigate how Newton and Goethe went through various phases of
    research in their quest to bring order into the dynamic world of colours. For Newton some of
    the early unpublished diagrams and later developments of prism-drawings will be discussed,
    and for Goethe the different ways of ordering colours, among them polarity (duality),
    threefold and fourfold groupings of basic colours, and the sixfold partitioning of Goethe’s
    colour wheel. The talk will address the question of the alternatives in understanding the
    various – often polarized – views of the history of the reception of their views on light and

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