Online Essays

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Online Essays

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Sample Essay on Science

In an article in his newspaper, Combat, November, 1948, Albert Camus sums up the modern age by saying that the seventeenth century was the age of mathematics, the eighteenth that of the physical sciences, the nineteenth that of biology, and "Our twentieth century is the century of fear." Fear, he adds, is not a science, but science has had a hand in the matter, since its latest theories have led science to contradict itself, and its practical advances menace the earth with destruction. Furthermore, even if fear is not a science, there is no doubt that in unscrupulous hands fear is a technique.

The epigram does not suggest that science has disappeared from the scene or from consciousness; on the contrary, it suggests that in defense of its own sanity, the twentieth century has had to begin to live with science, alarming though the prospect may be. In literature, both aspects of the process have been described, and the tensions and anxieties are perceptible. Balzac, Flaubert, and Zola claimed scientific validity for their work, asserting that in part at least their books could be regarded as an annex of science. "Science" was a good word for them, as for their age; "scientific" expressed approval, and pointed towards the realization of desired ends.

With the passage of time, the words "science" and "scientist" (the latter suggested in 1840 by the Rev. William Whewell of Cambridge University) have lost some of their savor. Although twentiethcentury man no longer sees a promise of inevitable happiness in science and its works, he cannot deny science its importance, or refuse the necessity of understanding it. In literature, practically no school or considerable author today regards science as offering a necessary or even a particularly important analytical or expository method, or an ideal or valid criterion for aesthetic or moral judgment. In certain genres, in dealing with certain aspects of human affairs, the technique of using scientific language is one of many skills to be acquired and adopted, valuable in analyzing certain sequences and patterns of events. Thus at various times scientific words have been useful; one recalls the vogue about 1900 of the idea of evolution and Ferdinand Brunetière's application of the word, misleading and erroneous as it was, to the history of literary genres. Other words and concepts, from psychology and medicine (complex, fixation, symptom, diagnosis) and from physics and chemistry (electric, lens, magnetic, catalyst, filter, synthetic, crystallize), have sometimes been useful in permitting a more exact analysis, a new look at the sequences, the processes and struggles, of the kind of material an author uses, and have undoubtedly encouraged a degree of impersonal objectivity in so far as such phrases have been able to replace old and well-worn--and therefore vague--formulae.

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