I was reading the Wikipedia page on C.P. Snow's article/lecture/book The Two Cultures, about the divide between science and the humanities in academia. The Wikipedia page seems to have a contradiction, and I haven't got the original text to check, so I'm not sure which is right.

Firstly, at the beginning of the Wikipedia page:

Its thesis was that "the intellectual life of the whole of western society" was split into the titular two cultures – namely the sciences and the humanities – and that this was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems.

Then later on, it says:

Snow's Rede Lecture condemned the British educational system as having, since the Victorian era, over-rewarded the humanities (especially Latin and Greek) at the expense of scientific and engineering education [...] By contrast, Snow said, German and American schools sought to prepare their citizens equally in the sciences and humanities, and better scientific teaching enabled these countries' rulers to compete more effectively in a scientific age.

The quote marks around "the intellectual life of the whole of western society" suggests it's a direct quote, but surely Germany and America are also part of western society, and yet Snow apparently held them up as better examples than Britain in this respect. What was he really saying?

Did "The Two Cultures" condemn Britain specifically, or the west in general?

  • @ChristopheStrobbe Aww, now I've lost your original comment with the link to a related Philosophy question :-( Was it this one? – Rand al'Thor Nov 22 '17 at 19:29
  • Yes, the related question on Philosophy SE is Can philosophy overcome “the two cultures” divide?. And this edition by Cambridge UP has a long introduction by Stefan Collini (still on my ever-expanding reading list). – Tsundoku Nov 22 '17 at 19:33
  • Tangentially, this isn't JUST a "Britain" thing, or even a "Western" thing. The whole "physicists vs. lyricists" ("физики и лирики") was a big thing among Soviet intellectuals too. – DVK Nov 26 '17 at 5:26
  • @DVK Hmm, now I wonder what the differences were between the way that schism/debate manifested in the USSR and the culture/time that Snow was talking about ... – Rand al'Thor Nov 26 '17 at 11:45
  • @Randal'Thor - I paid a bit less attention to lyricists in USSR; but I suspect there was a lot less postmodernist ... stuff... going on. – DVK Nov 26 '17 at 12:47

He says that England is an exaggerated case of the general view:

...this cultural divide is not just an English phenomenon: it exists all over the western world. But it probably seems at its sharpest in England, for two reasons. One is our fanatical belief in educational specialisation, which is much more deeply ingrained in us than in any country in the world, west or east. The other is our tendency to let our social forms crystallise.


  • Which version of the text is that one you've cited? He delivered the same point in several different places: an article expanded to a lecture expanded to a book, I think. – Rand al'Thor Nov 22 '17 at 18:32
  • This is, I believe, the lecture. It refers to the New Statesman article, but is shorter than the book-length treatment. – Joshua Engel Nov 22 '17 at 18:38

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