Journal of the Knowledge Economy

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 83–97

One, Two, or Three Cultures? Humanities Versus the Natural and Social Sciences in Modern Germany



The central aim of this article is to clarify some central theoretical issues concerning the relationship between academic disciplines and society in late nineteenth century and early twentieth century Germany. At first glance, the history of science confirms the view commonly held today, of natural sciences and technology eroding the position of forms of knowledge related to the study of cultural phenomena. By linking the crisis of the humanities to the progress of the natural sciences, however, there is a danger of misrepresenting both of them as monolithic epistemic cultures. In reality, the German term Geisteswissenschaften acquired its meaning in sharp competition with other categories. In this context, the Geisteswissenschaften were perceived as “useless” not only by contrast with the impressive technological applications of the “natural sciences”, but also with the bid for political relevance made by the “social sciences”. The “crisis of the humanities” can, therefore, not be overcome without reflecting on science as a whole and conceptualizing the function of the humanities in positive terms.


History of science Relationship between disciplines Technological application of science Science and politics 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of HistoryUniversity of BaselBaselSwitzerland

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