"Toward a Nonanthropocentric Vision of Nature: Goethe's Discovery of the Intermaxillary Bone"

Goethe Yearbook 22, no. 1 (2015): 73-93.

Goethe Yearbook Cover
First page of article

In this article, I employ approaches from the history and philosophy of science and environmental philosophy to investigate Goethe's so-called discovery of the intermaxillary bone as a still viable critique of anthropocentrism. Goethe's discovery of the intermaxillary bone (now called the "premaxilla," it is a pair of cranial bones located at the front of the upper jaw) is here "so-called," because, despite his own narrative of the discovery's priority, which has been continuously reaffirmed by scholars, he was not actually first. Nevertheless, his essay on the bone reveals another, more important discovery that complemented the former supposed one.

While his contemporaries in anatomy like Petrus Camper and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach actively sought anatomical features that set the human apart from the animal kingdom and hence outside of nature, Goethe sought and confirmed just the opposite: the intermaxiilary bone joined humans most intimately to the animal world and any science of nature must be based on nonanthropocentric principles, if it is to be worth anything at all. In the second part of the article, I begin to elaborate Goethe's nonanthropocentric vision of nature. I close by arguing that it supports the continued development of such visions today, especially as they pertain to questions in environmental philosophy and ethics.

"The Creation of Wilderness"
in The Nature Drawings of Peter Karklins

Ed. Sean D. Kirkland. (Chicago: DePaul Art Museum Press, 2012).

The Nature Drawings of Peter Karklins info sheet
Peter Karklins' artwork

My conversations with the Chicago artist, Peter Karklins, which began during my undergraduate education at DePaul University in Chicago, and the involvement of Philosophy Department faculty culminated in an exhibition at the DePaul Museum of Art in 2012 and the publication of the book, which comprises the reproduction of Karklins' artworks as well as essays and other media by a diverse range of scholars who reflect on these artworks.

My contribution explores the dynamic tension between creation and destruction in Karklins' work, as well as the possibly unsettling self-reflection required to enter into his miniature worlds.

Read Anna Hill's interview with Peter Karklins here.
Read Julie Harris's review of the exhibition here.