April 8, 2003
In his final book and his first full-length original title since Full House in 1996, the eminent paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould offers a surprising and nuanced study of the complex relationship between our two great ways of knowing: science and the humanities, twin realms of knowledge that have been divided against each other for far too long.
To establish his two protagonists, Gould draws from a seventh century B.C. proverb attributed to the Greek soldier poet Archilochus that said roughly,”The fox devices many strategies; the hedgehog knows one great and effective strategy.” While emphatically rejecting any simplistic attempt to assign either science or the humanities to one or the other of these approaches to knowledge, Gould uses this ancient concept to demonstrate that neither strategy can work alone, but that these seeming opposites can be conjoined into a common enterprise of tremendous unity and power.
In building his case, Gould shows why the common assumption of an inescapable conflict between science and the humanities (in which he includes religion) is false, mounts a spirited rebuttal to the ideas that his intellectual rival E. O. Wilson set forth in his book Consilience, and explains why the pursuit of knowledge must always operate upon the bedrock of nature’s randomness. The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister’s Pox is a controversial discourse, rich with facts and observations gathered by one of the most erudite minds of our time.
Stephen Jay Gould was one of the most influential evolutionary biologists and acclaimed science essayists of the twentieth century. He died on May 20, 2002, at the age of sixty.