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Modern European Intellectual History

Week Eight Study Questions

From Science to Irrationalism I

Please be sure to read Read Perry, ch. 24, pp. 590-596 and chs. 25-27, for background on the late 19th century, and read ch. 28, esp. pp. 696-706, for more on the movements we will discuss in class this week!.

Documents:  I have assigned the documents slightly out of chronological order--my main concern was a thematic grouping of the readings.  But I want you to be aware of the chronology of these essays. 

Darwin's The Origin of Species was published in England in 1859.  Chronologically, the next of our readings to appear was Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy, written during the Franco-Prussian War and first published in Germany in 1871 (the preface that you are reading was added in 1886).  Huxley's "The Struggle for Existence" was published in England in 1888, and the mathematician Karl Pearson's "National Life from the Standpoint of Science" was published in England in 1900.  


~Darwin, Origin of the Species, "Introduction" and any other chapter that you might find of interest, at

What major questions was Darwin posing in this study--what was he trying to figure out?

What is his main point about the following issues:  hereditary "modifications"; the "struggle for survival"; and   "natural selection"?

What did he consider the most difficult aspects of his theory? 

Did he consider his own research to be complete, and did he think that he had answered all questions regarding evolution?

What is the main thesis of this abstract, and why was that of such great historical importance?


~Huxley, "The Struggle for Existence" at

How does Huxley distinguish between "savage" and "citizen"?  How does he descried life for the "savages,"  how does he define "society," and how does he define the "ethical man"?

Does he think that ethics and civilization have ended the "struggle for existence"?  How does he explain war and poverty?

What does he see as necessary for England's "salvation"?  What was the main threat to English trade and to social stability?

What is his view of the European working class?  How and why does he propose an end to the "miserable" poor?

In what sense are Huxley's views "social darwinistic"?


~Pearson, selections from National Life From the Standpoint of Science at

In what sense are Pearson's views "social darwinistic"?

How does he explain the world dominance of the "white man"?  Why does he consider it important for the "white races" to understand "the struggle of race against race and nation against nation"?

In what sense does Pearson's argument represent the idea of "eugenics" (an idea taken very seriously at the turn of the century and in the early 1900s)?

What is his "scientific view of a nation"?  Does he see war as an evil?  Is he likely to win any awards for his support of cultural diversity?  Explain.

Some historians see in Pearson (and in some of our other authors for this week) elements of "proto-fascism"--what would be the basis of such an argument?


~Nietzsche, "An Attempt at Self-Criticism" from The Birth of Tragedy at

Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy examines ancient Greek arts as a means of discussing aesthetics and morality.  At the same time, it is very clear that he is writing about the problems he sees confronting Europe (and in particular, the newly united German Empire) in 1871.  What are his main questions about "modern" European life?

Why, in 1870-71, was Nietzsche so concerned with what he describes as "the Dionysian," and what does this tell us about a very important "stream" that was beginning to flow in European intellectual life?  How might his questions about the Greek desire for beauty, their madness, their dissolution, their rationality, etc., reflect a view (his view) of life in late 19th century Europe?

What are his conclusions regarding "morality," Christianity, and the future of "European morality"?

Nietzsche is famous for the enigmatic nature of his writings--What seems to be his main point in this "introduction"?  

If you are interested in Nietzsche, you might want to take a look at this website-- "The Will to Power" at


1) Think about how each of these authors fit into the traditions of the Enlightenment and of Romanticism.  How would you "place" each of them in relation to these two earlier movements?

2) What common threads can you find linking the readings for this week to last week's readings by Karl Marx?

3) I gave this week's readings the title "From Science to Irrationalism"--what do you think I had in mind by this title, and how do the readings relate to this idea?