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Literary positivism? Scientific theories and methods in the work of Sainte-Beuve (1804-1869) and Wilhelm Scherer (1841-1886)

Author(s): Wolfgang Kaltenbrunner

Journal: Studium : Tijdschrift voor Wetenschaps- en Universiteits-Geschiedenis
ISSN 1876-9055

Volume: 3;
Issue: 2;
Start page: 74;
Date: 2010;
Original page

Keywords: Literary positivism | Sainte-Beuve | Scherer

Literary positivism? Scientific theories and methods in the work of sainte-beuve (1804-1869) and wilhelm scherer (1841-1886) This paper compares the research and critical work of Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve and Wilhelm Scherer, two of the most important representatives of ‘literary positivism’ in France and the Germanophone countries in the nineteenth century. It argues that although Sainte- Beuve and Scherer shared a research interest in deterministic biography, their work is too rich and too varied to lump it together under the commonly assigned label of ‘positivism’. Sainte- Beuve’s descriptive comparative literary criticism was meant to establish a database of human character types and thereby lay the groundwork for a future science of morals. Scherer, on the other hand, was mainly interested elaborating inductive hypotheses on the causal determination of individual life and literary history by various social and physiological factors. The paper elicits the different scientific sources of knowledge that Sainte-Beuve and Scherer drew upon. While Sainte-Beuve’s classification of character types is strongly in - formed by his reception of the comparative natural sciences, especially late eighteenth/early nineteenth century botany and zoology, Scherer’s research is in many respects conceived as a humanistic equivalent to the empirical inductive research model of German physical reductionism. Finally, the paper elucidates the specific political contexts to which Sainte-Beuve and Scherer reacted in their research.
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