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Literature, Letters, and the Social Sciences

Literature, Letters, and the Social Sciences

(p.227) Chapter Ten Literature, Letters, and the Social Sciences
Far Afield
Vincent Debaene
University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines how writers and men of letters responded to the birth of the social sciences in France by considering reactions to the foundation of sociology at the turn of the twentieth century. Figures such as Agathon and Gustave Lanson wrestled with the question of how to defend literature as a knowledge project when faced with the ambitions of sociology and the social sciences. Whereas the former takes up the dispossession of the artist by the social scientist, the latter rails against the new sciences’ claims to rigor and rejection of rhetoric. These analyses point to a significant change in the function of literature in the modern era, namely that the humanistic scholar can no longer claim to have anything to teach the scientist in the name of the exercise of aesthetic judgment.

Keywords:   Gustave Lanson, Agathon, Sociology, Social Sciences, Science and Literature

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