Dying to KnowScientific Epistemology and Narrative in Victorian England

Dying to KnowScientific Epistemology and Narrative in Victorian England

George Levine

Print publication date: 2013

ISBN: 9780226475363

Publisher: University of Chicago Press

Abstract

This book, which contributes to the history and theory of scientific knowledge, explores the paradoxes of our modern ideal of objectivity, in particular its emphasis on the impersonality and disinterestedness of truth. How, the author asks, did this idea of selfless knowledge come to be established and moralized in the nineteenth century? The author shows that for nineteenth-century scientists, novelists, poets, and philosophers, access to the truth depended on conditions of such profound self-abnegation that pursuit of it might be taken as tantamount to the pursuit of death. The Victorians, he argues, were dying to know in the sense that they could imagine achieving pure knowledge only in a condition where the body ceases to make its claims: to achieve enlightenment, virtue, and salvation, one must die. This book is ultimately a study of this moral ideal of epistemology. But it is also something much more: a spirited defense of the difficult pursuit of objectivity, the ethical significance of sacrifice, and the importance of finding a shareable form of knowledge.