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Thoreau was at least vaguely aware of the outlines of this philosophical discussion, and during the 1840s and 1850s the Anglo-American intellectual community fully debated scientific method as well as the logical process of scientific discovery. Fundamental questions were posed most famously by three English critics: William Whewell (1794–1866), John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), and John Heschel (1792–1871). Whewell's philosophy of science is most relevant to Thoreau's own project inasmuch as each man sought to balance empiricism with Imagination. In The Philosophy of the Inductive

Sciences (1840), Whewell sought a middle ground between the strong English “sensationalist” school (having grown from the British empiricist tradition) and science based on the a priori of German idealists (Fisch 1991). Whewell appreciated that even the most commonplace perception must go beyond mere sensation and be ordered by the mind, and from this position he argued that science, and all true knowledge, was intellectually governed by what he termed “antitheticals”—composites of sensation/conception, things/ideas, fact/theory. These “mutually irreducible … [and] inseparable empirical and conceptual components” (Fisch 1998) left Kant's notion of the noumena intact, yet served a useful function in dissecting the process of scientific discovery. For Whewell, Baconian inductionism was naive, and in its place he saw the Imagination, very close to the Lake Poets' vision, as reading meaning, structure, regularity, and law into the facts, rather than gleaning such information from the empirical data alone. Facts were thus “colligated” by a superimposition of the mental concept over the empirical data (ibid.). Creative genius was required to bring the confusion of disparate inductive results into some sort of structural unity and significance. Moreover, science, according to Whewell, was closely aligned to natural theology, for scientific imagination in league with a cosmic Imagination would be able to reveal God's mind and purposes.

This was hardly inductionism in the traditional sense, and Whewell's proposals initiated vigorous debate over the nature of scientific discovery and verification (Yeo 1985; 1993; Smith 1994). As we will see, later postpositivist interpretations of science's mode of discovery and theory formation also have focused upon the intuitive, tacit, and aesthetic character of insight required for synthesis and the role of deductive reasoning at play with investigative induction—insights not so alien from Whewell's position. But in the mid-nineteenth century, Whewell's idealist philosophy strongly clashed with the growing positivist ethos concerning the objective status of scientific laws. Critics were dismayed at the prospects of a renewal of a speculative neo-Naturphilosophie. The argument was decided not in philosophical debate but in the laboratory. The practices and methodologies of the laboratory scientists were best described by other philosophies of science, both more strictly inductive in character and pragmatic in approach, and because of the congruence with actual practice these anti-Whewellian philosophies became more influential.[12] Thoreau might have been not only aware of these discussions but sympathetically drawn to Whewell's position (Rossi 1993). To be sure, Whewell's efforts to place a Romantic orientation within an increasingly objectified science resonate with Thoreau's own parallel attempts to personalize his experience of nature, but their

respective projects at best were analogous, never identical. They were more like two trains heading for the same destination from different directions, at times traveling on parallel tracks and at other points diverging. Furthermore, each carried very different freight.

Thoreau, struggling with the same issues as Whewell, was driven into the active debate in other quarters of the intellectual establishment stimulated by the crisis of Romanticism's ebb and positivism's flow. The Romantic response to positivism assumed various forms, but all asserted the premier place of Imagination in the inquiry into nature. Thoreau pursued an agenda largely outside formal scientific and philosophical enterprises. His was the work of “poets,” and philosophical debate, irrespective of the merits of its analytical sophistication and intellectual tradition, was not Thoreau's forum. Only by the most exercised inference might we place him more firmly within those formal discussions. Plainly stated, the issues pertinent to the analytical understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge did not concern him. Interested though he might have been in a general way, he formulated his own unique response to the contending issues quite apart from that discourse. So, while Thoreau was well acquainted with the controversy concerning the relationship of facts and theory, and although he read Sir David Brewster's attack on Baconian induction philosophy of science (Life of Newton [1831]) in 1856 (Thoreau, June 2, 1856,Journal, [1906] 1962, 8:362])— a critique aligned with Whewell's—it is not clear that Thoreau had intimate acquaintance with any of the arguments as formally presented. We might appreciate Thoreau and Whewell in alliance, even congruent from our perspective, but Thoreau himself is not readily placed in any philosophical orbit.

The segregation of discourses—scientific, philosophical, and literary— was just beginning in this period, so there still was a free exchange of ideas across disciplines during the 1840s and 1850s. (This same point will be amplified in my discussion of Thoreau's relationship to professional science below and in the next chapter.) The subject/object relationship, the nature of facts and their relationship to theory, and the metaphysical unity of the world were prominent issues “in the air,” so to speak, and Thoreau's original and provocative contributions are selfevident (Peck 1990; Rossi 1993). But he never sustained a clear argument or exposition of a philosophical position, epistemological or otherwise, and offered, instead, scattered observations, aphorisms, asides of one kind or another. We have a sense of where he is going philosophically, and his message has philosophical import, but his discussion itself is not philosophical. We might analyze him philosophically, but that does not mean that he worked as a philosopher. And analogously, as we will see in the next chapter, while we might attempt to place

Thoreau's nature study in the context of science, that does not mean that he regarded his project as falling within a scientific agenda. He was too keenly aware of the restrictions of that worldview and too dedicated to his own, as he repeatedly asserted.

Committed to the aestheticization of experience, subordinating the objective study of nature to poetic enterprise, Thoreau regarded the relationship of the observer to the observed as a problem of poesis. The issue was not subjectivity in a prejudicial or solipsistic sense, but rather the transposition of experience from the objective parlance of science to a language of meaning:

There is no such thing as pure objective observation. Your observation, to be interesting,i.e. to be significant, must be subjective. The sum of what the writer of whatever class has to report is simply some human experience, whether he be poet or philosopher or man of science. (May 5, 1854,Journal, [1906], 1962, 6:236–37)

And this was to be a celebration of life in its fullest deployment, a moral mandate:

The man most of science is the man most alive, whose life is the greatest event. Senses that take cognizance of outward things merely are of no avail. It matters not how far you travel … but how much alive you are. (Ibid.)

Thoreau could not abide any categorization of himself as “scientist,” which was, from his point of view, too restrictive. After all, he was pursuing a theory of life, not a theory of biology. As already noted, when invited to join the [American] Association for the Advancement of Science, Thoreau confided to his Journal a selfappraisal which put him in league with the Transcendentalists. Nine months later, when writing the Association's secretary, he declined membership by evoking his affinity with earlier naturalists, who belonged to a Romantic tradition that he undoubtedly felt was out of step with the current standards of scientific endeavor.[13] To this matter in particular, and the general standing of science in his day, we next turn.

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Thoreau at the Crossroads
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