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Disciplinary Distinctions before the “Two Cultures”

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C. P. Snow's conception of “two cultures” has been readily applied to modern European and especially Anglo-American contexts and used to bemoan the negative impact of disciplinary distinctions. But in the pre-modern period, disciplinary distinctions prevailed along different fault lines. I consider two examples of the dynamics between the disciplines in medieval and early modern Europe to argue that distinctions between the disciplines can foster crucial benefits along with the tensions and obstacles to interdisciplinarity of which we are more often aware. In the medieval university the institutional and intellectual separation between philosophy and theology gave the former an important measure of protection and independence from the cultural dominance of the latter. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the long-traditional distinction between mathematical disciplines and Aristotelian physics was gradually abandoned, and distinctions akin to those Snow identified were first commented on during the quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns (c. 1687).

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of History, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA

Publication date: August 1, 2008

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