Science And Culture Popular And Philosophical Essays Correspondence

Hermann von Helmholtz was a leading figure of nineteenth-century European intellectual life, remarkable even among the many scientists of the period for the range and depth of his interests. A pioneer of physiology and physics, he was also deeply concerned with the implications of science for philosophy and culture.

From the 1850s to the 1890s, Helmholtz delivered more than two dozen popular lectures, seeking to educate the public and to enlighten the leaders of European society and governments about the potential benefits of science and technology to a developing modern society. David Cahan has selected fifteen of these lectures, which reflect the wide range of topics of crucial importance to Helmholtz and his audiences. Among the subjects discussed are the origins of the planetary system, the relation of natural science to science in general, the aims and progress of the physical sciences, the problems of perception, and academic freedom in German universities. This collection also includes Helmholtz's fascinating lectures on the relation of optics to painting and the physiological causes of harmony in music, which provide insight into the relations between science and aesthetics.

Science and Culture makes available again Helmholtz's eloquent arguments on the usefulness, benefits, and, intellectual pleasures of understanding the natural world. With Cahan's Introduction to set these essays in their broader context, this collection makes an important contribution to the philosophical and intellectual history of Europe at a time when science played an increasingly significant role in social, economic, and cultural life.

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(in German unless noted otherwise)

  • Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologische Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik, Braunschweig: Vieweg, 1863, MPIWG; 3th ed., 1870, MPIWG; 4th ed., 1877, IA; Frankfurt/Main: Minerva, 1981.
    • Théorie physiologique de la musique, fondée sur l'étude des sensations auditives, trans. Georges Guéroult, Paris: Victor Masson, 1868, IA, IA; 2nd ed., 1874. (French)
    • On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music, trans. & notes Alexander J. Ellis (of 3rd German ed.), 1875, IA; 2nd ed., rev., 1885, IA; 3rd ed., London and New York: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1895, IA, IA, IA; 4th ed., 1912, IA. (English)
Selected works
  • Science and Culture: Popular and Philosophical Essays, ed. & intro. David Cahan, University Of Chicago Press, 1995, 418 pp, PDF.


  • Leo Koenigsberger, Hermann von Helmholtz, 3 vols., Braunschweig: Olms, 1902, IA; Hildesheim: Olms-Weidmann, 2003. (German)
    • Hermann von Helmholtz, trans. Frances A. Welby, intro. Lord Kelvin, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906, IA.
  • David Cahan, Hermann von Helmholtz and the Foundations of Nineteenth-Century Science, University of California Press, 1994, CHM.
  • Gregor Schiemann, Hermann von Helmholtz’ Mechanismus im Anbruch der Moderne. Eine Studie zum Übergang von klassischer zu moderner Naturphilosophie, Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1997. (German)
    • Hermann von Helmholtz's Mechanism: The Loss of Certainty: A Study on the Transition from Classical to Modern Philosophy of Nature, trans. Cynthia Klohr, Springer, 2009, 284 pp, PDF. Review.
  • Michel Meulders, Helmholtz: Des lumières aux neurosciences, Paris: Odile Jacob, 2001. (French)
    • Helmholtz: From Enlightenment to Neuroscience, trans. & ed. Laurence Garey, MIT Press, 2010, 235 pp, Log.
  • Benjamin Steege, Helmholtz and the Modern Listener, Cambridge University Press, 2012, PDF.
  • Erwin Hiebert, The Helmholtz Legacy in Physiological Acoustics, Springer, 2014, PDF.
  • Writings on Helmholtz in Internet Archive
  • Timothy Lenoir, "The Eye as Mathematician: Clinical Practice, Instrumentation, and Helmholtz's Construction of an Empiricist Theory of Vision", in Hermann von Helmholtz and the Foundations of Nineteenth-Century Science, ed. David Cahan, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993, pp 109-153, PDF.
  • Timothy Lenoir, "Helmholtz and the Materialities of Communication", in Osiris 9 (1994), eds. Thomas P. Hankins and Albert van Helden, pp 184-207, PDF.
  • Timothy Lenoir, "Operationalizing Kant. Manifolds, Models, and Math in Helmholtz's Theories of Perception", in The Kantian Legacy in Nineteenth-Century Science, eds. Michael Friedman and Alfred Nordmann, 2006, pp 141-210, PDF.
  • Julia Kursell, "Sound Objects", in Sounds of Science – Schall im Labor, 1800–1930, ed. Kursell, Berlin: Max-Planck Institute for the History of Science, 2008, pp 29-38, PDF.
  • Gregor Schiemann, "Experimental Knowledge and the Theory of Producing it: Hermann von Helmholtz", in Generating Experimental Knowledge, Berlin: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, 2008, pp 109-120, PDF.
  • Lydia Patton, "Hermann von Helmholtz", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2008f, HTML.


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