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The Hedgehog, the Fox and the Magister's Pox: Mending and Minding the Misconceived Gap Between Science and the Humanities Hardcover – Illustrated, 29 May 2003

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape Ltd; illustrated edition edition (29 May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 022406309X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224063098
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.4 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,429,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Though this final book is not the most accessible of Stephen Jay Gould's meditations on science and culture, it is a complex and revealing look at one of the late paleontologist's great passions: the unity of human endeavour. The titular hedgehog and fox refer to the classic dichotomy of persistence opposed to agility of thought, which Gould uses as a backbone in comparing, contrasting and balancing science and the humanities. Unlike many scientists, he does not consider humanities (nor religion) to be inferior to his discipline.

Drawing liberally from Renaissance and Scientific Revolution sources, Gould shows that the perceived differences in the two cultures are mostly false. Readers of EO Wilson's Consilience will find many similarities here, though Gould emphatically rejects Wilson's conclusion that reductionism is an appropriate way to unite the two cultures and offers examples of when such an approach might fail.

If we discover that a majority of human cultures have favored infanticide under certain conditions, and that such a practice arose for good Darwinian reasons, shall we then claim that we have resolved the question of the rightness of such a practice with a "yea"?

This volume is presented by its editor almost unchanged from the manuscript Gould had finished shortly before his death. The result is a book with such unedited detail that its dense blend of history and philosophy is at times overwhelmingly difficult. Nevertheless, Gould's deeply held conviction that human understanding comes from every one of our cultural efforts shines through. --Therese Littleton, Amazon.com

About the Author

Stephen Jay Gould was the Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and professor of geology at Harvard and the curator for invertebrate palaeontology in the university's Museum of Comparative Zoology. He died in May 2002.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Doug Leith (dleith@businesslab.co.uk) on 23 Sept. 2003
Format: Hardcover
You're going to need a quiet corner to tackle this one.
One thing to make clear first - the manuscript for this book was written just before the author's death. It was published un-altered, and I suspect that the author would have taken a couple of iterations with an editor before committing it to print.
Gould's argumnet here is, bascially, that the physical sciences and the social sciences need to get it together a bit more. By sharing techniques across disciplines, we get arrive at much more insightful solutions.
I couldn't agree more.
But Gould seems to choose some odd examples throughout the book to demonstrate this point, which, I feel, don't fit the argument too well.
And the style of the writing is rich but rambling - it would sound good if delivered as spoken word in mad scientist lecture format, but in the written word it's a chore.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By G. Bache on 5 Sept. 2007
Format: Paperback
Maybe the difference between me and the reviewers below is that I hadn't read any of Gould's other work before approaching this one. If this isn't his best then I'm certainly going to be reading more.

It's certainly true that it lacks polish and reads like a first draft. But I felt there were really solid ideas here and found much to agree with.

Gould has an eye for telling details and I found his style to be very readable. He is also well-read in a wide range of subjects, which, as he is quick to highlight in this book, is unfortunately rare among scientists. This means he also has a firm grasp of his subject matter here from many different angles.

And unlike the reviewers below, I found myself firmly agreeing with Gould in his intellectual battle with E.O. Wilson. That the humanities can somehow be "reduced" to science seems to me far-fetched. Gould makes an excellent case for why this is the case: some phenomena are "emergent" and cannot be predicted from analysis of their constituent parts, and many are simply contingent, "one-offs" that do not lend themselves to prediction and repeated analysis.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A. D. Crysell on 11 July 2003
Format: Hardcover
I have been reading Stephen Jay Gould since Ever Since Darwin. I enjoyed his rather intellectual games. I was sad that he succumbed to his cancer after so many years of fight. I am even sadder that he should have left behind this book as a sort of epitath.
It's difficult to put my finger on what I don't like about this book. It isn't easy to read: the prose is verbose, showy and often disjointed. Much of it is lifted from earlier essays he wrote on the subject, the reunion of the sciences with the humanities. Actually, the book is turgid and uninteresting and for something that Gould was so interested in, it lacks passion.
I also think Gould got his subject wrong. I think he did because he carried with him all sorts of cultural biases which he would wear proudly, rather than subsuming. In many ways this is a political book, stating a case for the cultural determination of science, an extension of Gould's fight with E O Wilson and his sociobiology. I think Gould was wrong in this fight and was not honest with himself about it.
The other problem is that the book is not finished. Or at least it feels like it has ragged edges and there are some embarrassing - to me at least - bits where Gould seems to be chatting to the reader. They don't work and they would probably have been edited out. But of course he died before he could polish the book. A strong editor might have confronted these problems before.
So ends a rather spectacular career in science and literature with a whimper. Not a good book, actually a pretty bad book. Not one I'd recommend.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 18 Nov. 2003
Format: Hardcover
The Satin Bowerbird spends time and energy building a structure of dried grass. Decorating it with meaningless baubles to enhance its appearance, broken glass and shell pieces add visual attraction, but not strength. An impressive effort, designed to lure another Bowerbird by its delightful display, the bower is abandoned after mating. It's still dazzling, but meaningless. This book rather emulates that bower of straw and glitter. Gould's prose skills, sometimes entertaining and often informative, fail here. Worse, his theme is misdirected and his points so cluttered with arcane or self-serving asides, you begin to wonder why the book was written. His title is a circumlocution - the hedgehog being a single-purpose plodder contending with the more flexible and enterprising fox.
Gould begins claiming that historians label the 17th Century as "The Scientific Revolution", when most scholars apply the broader "The Enlightenment" to that era. Having begun on a false note, Gould then builds a dichotomy using a succession of writers, many lost to sight today. That, of course, was Gould's specialty - the restoration of forgotten literary, philosophical or scientific figures. He calls upon this phalanx to show how science and the humanities have diverged. Science, "the upstart" competed for pride of place against the "long-established" studies of the humanities. Science, the "hedgehog" with its narrow focus on facts, eschewed the sweeping assertions of the humanities - the "fox". Over the centuries, the divergence grew as the objective pursuit of evidence proved ill-adapted in philosophical studies.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 13 reviews
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
A Good Idea Translated Into an Episodic Essay. 30 Sept. 2004
By Kevin Currie-Knight - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Having read E.O. Wilson's book "Conscilience," and (seemingly) having the same blanching reaction to it that Gould did, I was hoping from the outset to give five stars to to this book. But alas, by the time I finished reading it, though I agreed with all of its major points, my conscience only let me give the book 3 stars. Here's why.

First, the book was published with little editing. This, of course, is hardly Gould's fault. While he lived to write the book (and I'm still very glad he did), he passed away before doing much editing. Be that as it may, the book would have seriously benefitted from having someone look it over. In many chapters, Gould meanders, tosses irrelevant asides, and strays regularly from promising lines of thought. That accounts for one star (that I subtract cautiously because, as i say, it is hardly Gould's fault here).

The other two stars are subtracted because of Gould's strange use of historical anecdotes. Gould, of course, is known for this and many collections of his essays find him historically preoccupied. Be that as it may, the subject of this book seemed more to demand the type of abstract and polemical discussion that Gould avowedly is trying to avoid here. Some of the anecdotes (bringing up Nabokov as a legitimate 'straddler' between science and the humanities) are great as case-bolstering asides, but many simply left me befuddled (a) as to why they were relevant; and (b) why they took up entire chapters.

The reason I dwell on the superfluity of Gould's anecdotal preoccupation is because the chapters I enjoyed most were the chapters where he hardly used anecdotes at all. One chapter finds Gould offering a mighty persuasive case that the science wars are themselves a 'social construction.' He recounts that not many of his scientist friends are even aware that there ever was such a thing, while none of his humanities friends have ever held (anything close to) the views sardonically attributed to them. No historical anecdotes in this chapter, and the chapter was all the better for it.

The chapter that really earns its keep, however, is the last one which sees Gould taking E.O. Wilson politely to task for his view that conscilience is tantamount to scientific reductionism - that the science/humanities "divide" can be ameliorated only by scientifically explaining the humanities. Gould recognizes that Wilson's argument here is nothing but an overly-optimistic and exhorbitantly doubtful pipe-dream. Given such seemingly impenetrable scientific failures as: (a) the inability to explain consciousness in stricly neurological and non-subjective terms, and (b) the naturalistic fallacy, whereby a factual "is" doesn't per se translate to an ethical "ought," Gould concludes that at least on some level, the humanities and the sciences will always occupy seperate places in the human condition.

While this concluding chapter was only about 35 pages, it seems to contain virtually all of the main points in the book. That made and makes me wonder why, then, we were presented with so many maundering chapters on this and that historical anecdote to get to one chapter that succinctly makes and argues every promised point in the book!

That is why I gave the book 3, rather than my hoped for 5 stars. Buy the book, especially if you want a useful counterpoint to Wilson's "Conscilience." Also check out Mary Midgley's "Science and Poetry" for many of the same points argued more succinctly.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Attempt to reconcile natural science and the humanities 24 Aug. 2004
By Pieter Uys - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In this posthumous publication, Gould provides a thorough historical overview of the development of scientific thought in various fields. He attempts to bridge the gap between the humanities/social sciences and the traditional idea of science as it finds expression in the natural sciences like astronomy, physics, geology etc.

The title refers to hedgehogs that establish themselves so successfully in a particular field that they can forever keep their competitors at a distance, and to foxes that in their turn spread the seed of knowledge through their genius and versatility. The fox and the hedgehog are the models of how the sciences and humanities should interact, because Gould believed that neither single strategy would work.

But a fruitful merger of these seemingly polar opposites could, with the necessary goodwill and restraint, be conjoined into a diverse but common enterprise of power and unity. The book is a plea for increased understanding between the humanities and the natural sciences.

He encourages natural scientists to improve their communication skills and to read beyond their field of specialty, and he criticizes those in the humanities who have no knowledge or understanding of the natural sciences. This can lead to the embarrassing stupidities so well documented in the book Intellectual Impostures (Fashionable Nonsense) by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont.

The Hedgehog, the Fox and the Magister's Pox is an engaging text and a stimulating read. It is accessible enough for the general reader and although not considered an example of his best writing, definitely worth a read.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
A book every true scientist should read! 16 Feb. 2004
By "wang52" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Truly enjoy the book, a passionate humanistic scientist in action! However, I do have some problems about the logic and arguments of the book:
1. Gould contributes the initial contention between science and the humanities to the turf battle and the power struggle between the Renaissance humanism and the rise of modern science, more specifically, to the Modern vs. Ancient debate in the 17th & 18th centuries. I suspect the historical accuracy of such analysis and doubt that it has any significant impact on the contention today. Maybe Gould himself commits to a fictional dichotomy which he argues against all along.
2. It seems to me that there is a significant inconsistency between chapter 5 in which he reveals the fallacious and fictional dichotomies between science and the humanities and chapter 6 in which he admits of the real tension between scientism and the critic of scientism (see pp. 113-115). It confirms my impression that "science wars" are for real and should be taken seriously, not just extremists' paranoid illusions.
3. What bothers me the most is an apparent paradox between Gould's fundamental assumption of the epistemic status of science (a magisterium about fact or IS) and the humanities (a magisterium about value or OUGHT) on the one hand and his relentless call for integration of these two "non-overlapping magisterial" (in brief, NOMA) as his overarching goal of the book on the other. First of all, if science and the humanities belong to two non-overlapping domains of discussion with logically totally different aims, methods and objects, then how could they be integrated since there is no any commonality between them??? Gould did try to answer this charge in chapter 8 in terms of a metaphor "one from many," but without any success in my humble judgment. Secondly, I believe that the above paradox is due to Gould's beloved separationism between science and the humanities (religion included), i.e., his thesis of NOMA as he defended fiercely in his Rocks of Ages. Ironically, it is the same Gould -- who warns us to guard against any dichotomous oppositions between science and the humanities throughout the book -- who introduces a more dangerous dichotomy between fact and value through the backdoor. As anyone who are familiar with the recent development of Science Studies and comparative studies of science and religion (all start from Thomas Kuhn) already knows, there is no such sharp distinction between fact and value. As Gould himself has admitted from time to time when he dismisses the myth of objectivity (p. 116ff), science is heavily value-laden. So besides the myth of objectivity of science, Gould has to give up his myth of fact/value dichotomy too! Otherwise his "divine" goal of integration between science and the humanities is doomed.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Well, yeah... but so what? 8 Jan. 2005
By A. W. Dale - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Having picked up this book basically on Gould's reputation, I expected some analysis worthy of such a creative title. Indeed, a brief glance through the material made it seem like I would be getting a lot of erudite historical references and some interesting thoughts on a subject I find personally quite important. After slogging through it, however, it's pretty clear that Gould's ideas don't really merit the kind of space and attention given to them in this book. They could have easily been better presented in a five-paragraph essay.

Gould spends most of his time talking about three things, all of which is underpinned by his criticism of what he feels is a natural human tendency to apply a binary filter to everything ("The Dynasty of Dichotomy"). He spends a disproportionate amount of time discussing what he sees as the overblown nature of the early Church hostility to science, the conflict between Ancients and Moderns, and the "science wars", before he ever gets to "mending" any gap between science and the humanities. Besides the brief "science wars" section, most of the book is centered around historical oddities from his personal library, which he readily admits are not truly central to the issues but merely interesting to him. If you have time to kill, you might appreciate such forays into the wilderness of his imagination. But if you actually want some kind of discussion related to the title of the book, just read Chapter 9, "The False Path of Reductionism and the Consilience of Equal Regard", and skip the rest. This is the only chapter with any real new analysis and it's still not entirely satisfactory, claiming as it does that because of emergent behavior (and other non-additive properties) science will never be able to unify or understand the humanities, or even many new scientific disciplines. He simply asserts that while he finds it wistfully pleasant to imagine a Wilsonian "consilience" of the humanities and science, it just isn't going to happen as their domains are quite separate. They have much to offer each each other (no really?), but they're just destined for separate ways. Most of his thought seems to rationalize already held beliefs. With such a difficult and intangible subject, it's easy to fall prey to these faults. Unfortunately, Gould hasn't escaped it either.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Need for a prose and style for science 4 Jan. 2007
By Meltem Kora - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In his highly intensive book Gould discusses science and humanities in an immensely articulated fashion that can be hard to follow many times. Yet the book is highly attentive to style as he argues in p.132 " In fact, this explicit denial of importance to modes of communication, unfortunately, engendered a more than merely mild form of philistinism among many scientists who not only view verbal skills as unimportant, but actually discount any fortuitous stylistic acumen among their collegaues as an irrelevant snare, casting suspicion upon the writer's capacity for objectivity in presenting the data of nature. In an almost perverse manner, inarticulateness almost becomes a virtue as a collateral sign of proper attention to nature's raw empirics versus distilled human presentation thereof".

Articulate and wellprosed he adds on p. 133 that " This lack of attention to style, combined with an active belief that quality of prose cannot impact the power of an argument, at least confers an admittedly undeserved blessing upon those few scientists who, by rare training or good fortune, happen to write unusually well and persuasively".

Well, he writes unusually well eventhough the reader might need to make parallel readings to undertand what he is talking about in the beautifully complex "minding and mending of the gap between science and humanities".
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