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Victorian Scientific NaturalismCommunity, Identity, Continuity$
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Bernard Lightman and Gowan Dawson

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780226109503

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2014

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226109640.001.0001

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Paradox: The Art of Scientific Naturalism

Paradox: The Art of Scientific Naturalism

(p.79) 3 Paradox: The Art of Scientific Naturalism
Victorian Scientific Naturalism

George Levine

University of Chicago Press

This chapter views the Scientific Naturalists from a literary perspective. Granting the importance of precise social context, it claims that full understanding of the naturalist's project requires understanding of its literary context. With literally epic ambition, their project affirmed both naturalistic empiricism and Spencer's “Unknowable,” with the emotional power of the religion it sought to displace. It strongly affirmed the limits of science, like positivism built its arguments from negations, and recognized the unscientific foundations of its scientific theorizing. To maneuver toward these epically optimistic ends the scientific naturalists found paradox to be their most powerful stylistic mode. By the end of the nineteenth century, they had edged toward a dark vision best summarized in the deep paradoxes of T. H. Huxley's Evolution and Ethics, particularly as they are dramatized in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. As a project, naturalism thus reveals its fundamental self-contradictions, its emotional power, and its lasting achievement.

Keywords:   Agnosticism, Epic, Ethics, Naturalism, Paradox, T. H. Huxley, John Tyndall, Joseph Conrad, Herbert Spencer, George Eliot

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