European ideas and culture expressed a tension between objectivity and scientific realism on one hand, and subjectivity and individualism and expression on the other.
The romantic movement of the early 19th century set the stage for later cultural perspectives by encouraging individuals to cultivate their uniqueness and to trust intuition and emotion as much as reason. Partly in reaction to the Enlightenment, romanticism affirmed the value of sensitivity, imagination, and creativity and thereby provided a climate for artistic experimentation. Later artistic movements such as Impressionism, Expressionism, and Cubism, which rested on subjective interpretations of reality by the individual artist or writer, arose from the attitudes fostered by romanticism. The sensitivity of artists to non-European traditions that imperialism brought to their attention also can be traced to the romantics’ emphasis on the primacy of culture in defining the character of individuals and groups.
In science, Darwin’s evolutionary theory raised questions about human nature,
and physicists began to challenge the uniformity and regularity of the Newtonian universe. In 1905 Einstein’s theory of relativity underscored the position of the observer in defining reality, while the quantum principles of randomness and probability called the objectivity of Newtonian mechanics into question. The emergence of psychology as an independent discipline, separate from philosophy on the one hand and neurology on the other, led to investigations of human behavior that gradually revealed the need for more subtle methods of analysis than those provided by the physical and biological sciences. Freud’s investigations into the human psyche suggested the power of irrational motivations and unconscious drives.
Many writers saw humans as governed by spontaneous, irrational forces and believed that intuition and will were as important as reason and science in the search for truth. In art, literature, and science, traditional notions of objective, universal truths and values increasingly shared the stage with a commitment to and recognition of subjectivity, skepticism, and cultural relativism.
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Romanticism broke with neoclassical forms of artistic representation and with rationalism, placing more emphasis on intuition and emotion.
Following the revolutions of 1848, Europe turned toward a realist and materialist worldview.
A new relativism in values and the loss of confidence in the objectivity of knowledge led to modernism in intellectual and cultural life.
Pages below are from Jackson Spielvogel's Western Civilization, Updated 9th AP Edition
Reading assignment 1: