Agnes Arber

July 6, 2018

Born: 23 February 1879

Died: 22 March 1960

Nationality: British

 

 

Agnes Robertson Arber was a British plant anatomist and morphologist, a biology philosopher, and a botany historian. Though born in London, the 51 years of her life was spent in Cambridge. Anger Arber was recognized to be the first woman botanist and the third overall to have been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society at the age of 67. Because of her contributions to botanical science, Arber received the Gold Medal of the Linnean Society of London by the age of 69 – the first woman to receive such accolade.

In terms of her scientific research, it was focused on the comparative anatomy of flowering plants - monocotyledon class. During the beginning of the 20th century, she contributed to the development of morphological research and studies in Botany. The later part of her life and works was concentrated on the Botany philosophy topic, specifically on the nature of biological research. 

During the Second World War Arber found it difficult to maintain her small laboratory, as supplies were becoming more difficult to obtain. This led to her decision to stop performing laboratory work and to concentrate more on philosophical and historical issues. She got inspired by Goethe and in 1946 she published Goethe's Botany, a translation of Goethe's Metamorphosis of Plants (1790). In 1946 she became the first woman botanist to be named a fellow of the Royal Society. Her studies on the philosophy of plant morphology led her to take a broader view of the links between science and philosophy. Her final book, The Manifold and the One published in 1957 is concerned with wider philosophical questions. The book is a wide-ranging and syncretic survey, drawing on literary, scientific, religious, mystical and philosophical traditions, incorporating Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist philosophy with European philosophy in pursuit of a discussion of the mystical experience which Arber defines as "that direct and unmediated contemplation which is characterised by a peculiarly intense awareness of a Whole as the Unity of all things".

 

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