Defining Science

William Whewell, Natural Knowledge and Public Debate in Early Victorian Britain

Defining Science

Defining Science deals with the major role of the historian and philosopher of science, William Whewell, in early Victorian debates about the nature of science and its moral and cultural value. Richard Yeo also examines the different forms or genres in which science was discussed in the public sphere--most crucially in the Victorian review journals, but also in biographical, historical and educational works. Analysis of the whole corpus of Whewell's work suggests that it be seen not only as an attempt to define science, but to clarify his own vocation as its leading critic.


"...not until the publication of this important book by Richard Yeo has something near to a complete picture of Whewell been produced...Yeo provides lucid analysis of Whewell's major works and locates them in the journalistic debates of the era. This volume provides the best current introduction to Whewell's thought....readers and students stand in Yeo's debt and will benefit from his research for many years." Victorian Studies

"Yeo has written a significant book that synthesizes much recent work on Whewell and his context while also advancing its own original thesis. It will serve as a fine introduction to an extraordinary individual. It will also raise new questions to be considered by all who are interested in the intellectual life of nineteenth century Britain." American Historical Review

"Yeo ...has illluminated many aspects of debates about the nature and status of nineteenth-century science." Canadian Journal of History

Defining Science self-consciously takes Whewell's initial choice of vocation as its point of departure and brilliantly analyzes how it was achieved. It surveys the full range of Whewell's metascientific writings, contextualizing each major text in terms of its genre, its intended audience, and its wider polemical framework. It is hence at once a seminal vocational biography of the most prominent Victorian metascientist and a penetrating study of the complex debate about the nature of science in nineteenth-century Britain. It is a book no student of Victorian intellectual history can afford to ignore." Menachem Fisch, Isis

"...Yeo succeeds admirably in his self-assigned task." Albion

"VPR readers will find much to interest them in what Yeo has to say about Whewell, periodical literature, and the discourse of science." Christopher Kent, Victorian Periodical Review