19th century society and culture

With industrial growth, by about 1850, Western and central European countries were developing a middle class of industrialists and professionals. There was confidence in human progress and the human ability to do virtually anything. This confidence was characterized by the belief that man was reasonable and able to make choices with free will. It also emphasized toleration of others and respect for science and reason.

19th century achievements in science & technology

Developments of the middle class, gender division, and middle class values

Science and the development of the social sciences

Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920) and a physiological approach to the mind.

Auguste Comte (1798-1857): approach social problems with statistical data; scientific positivism.

Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886): rejecting history based on tradition; emphasis on documentary evidence.

Intellectual factors that destabilized 19th century European society

Implication of Darwinism

Darwinism was a scientific revolution equivalent to Copernicus -- it changed the frame of  of reference. Now, there was no need for a God to explain life. The idea that man was a special animal, as opposed to just a very evolved one was hard to support. Darwin's view also implied the human being's moral nature and religion had developed naturalistically.  There was a basic change in the way people saw Nature:

Darwinism and pessimism of man

Do people lack all free will - are their actions predetermined by their genetic make-up, or their psychological background, or do people have a real opportunity to make an impact on the world, and to be responsible for their actions?

Science and its challenge to Enlightenment view of progress

The development of science itself posed problems for humanistic views of the world.

This is perhaps the most important issue in the development of modern thought.

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

By 1870 - Newtonian Physics still holds, along with the notion that science describes the real world. This changes by 1914, by which time most physicists are aware that all they have are models of how nature works.

Special theory of relativity (1905)

This theory deals with the issues that cannot be dealt with by Newtonian physics, e.g. when things moving at a high speed close to light, their movements do not accord with Newtonian rules.  Some characteristics of it include:

The maximum velocity attainable in the universe is that of light; that mass and energy are equivalent and interchangeable properties (this is spectacularly confirmed by nuclear fission, on which the atomic bomb is based); that objects appear to contract in the direction of motion; that the rate of a moving clock seems to decrease as its velocity increases.

General theory of relativity

Einstein expanded the special theory of relativity into a general theory (completed c.1916) that applies to systems in nonuniform (accelerated) motion as well as to systems in uniform motion. The general theory is principally concerned with the large-scale effects of gravitation and therefore is an essential ingredient in theories of the universe as a whole.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis - was the name Freud gave to his new "science" and is "single most important idea whereby 20th C. people identify themselves."

Significance of psychoanalysis

Freud ends up profoundly compromising the idea that human beings had freewill and rationality. The problem with this was that ideas like "democracy" really rely on the belief that voters will take rational decisions -- not vote for a candidate because he/she reminds them of their mother.

Impact of the new sciences of late 19th century

The older science of the enlightenment had suggested a knowable and harmonious universe, in which clear-thinking  human beings could make rational decisions to reach a better future.  The new science suggested that we do not know the universe, that what we know suggests a bloody struggle, and that human beings take part in that struggle because their minds are clouded by unconscious motivations.