LTEGoethe and His Woman Friends (1911)
Left: a depiction of “Goethe love thought experiment”, an 1808 conceived love thought experiment (see: Goethe timeline), conceived in the mind of German polymath Johann Goethe about the paradoxical situation surrounding the nature of love in the scenario of a hero being simultaneously in love with four women; this premise was worked into a draft story called “The Renouncers”, which, with the addition of the solution method of employing Torbern Bergman’s affinity diagram logic to deal with the issue of “choice”, in the following year, ballooned into the physical chemistry based passions novella Elective Affinities.

Right: the cover of American romantic period historian Mary Crawford’s 1911 Goethe and His Woman Friends, giving indication to fact that the sheer number of female relationships Goethe’s culled in his reaction existence, makes for a focused subject in itself. [3]
In thought experiments, Goethe love thought experiment refers to the 1808 love thought experiment conceptualized by German thinker Johann Goethe about a scenario of a hero simultaneously in love with four women and how he should go about choosing one; which led into a discourse on the nature of “choice”, as reality sees things, i.e. the physical sciences and physicochemical sense of the matter.

In the middle of 1808, German polymath Johann Goethe, a few months before he met Napoleon (Oct 2), he had started writing a story called “The Renouncers”, which, according to one of Goethe’s assistants, was about a hero simultaneously in love with four women; the synopsis of which, in Goethe’s view, was that:

“Each in her own way is lovable; whichever one he is drawn to in the mood of the moment, she alone is lovable.”

Goethe took it up again early the next year, after which the tale ballooned into a novel, progressed quickly, and before the end of the year (Oct 3, 1809) (see: Goethe timeline) it was in print under the enigmatic title Elective Affinities, a physical chemistry based treatise on love, relationships, and human interactions viewed purely as affinity reactions or chemical reactions. [1]

American literature professor Stefanie Markovits, in her summary English poet Arthur Clough's circa 1849 long poem Amours de Voyage, discusses innate "thought experiment" nature of Goethe’s 1809 physical chemistry based novella Elective Affinities (Die Wahlverwandtschaften): [2]

“Why, Claude wonders, should he fall for Mary rather than some other girl who would be equally suitable and equally attractive? Is love just the chance collision of two people who are, as the saying goes, in the right place at the right time—a kind of lucky hit in the dark? ‘Juxtaposition’, within the frame of Amours, fits into two sets of metaphors. The first of these is chemical and has to do with the concept of elective affinities: the idea that elements having inherent tendencies to form combinations and that they will combine and recombine according to these tendencies when placed in solution with each other. Goethe had explored the social and sexual implications of the concept in his novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften (1809), a work that obviously influenced Clough’s reflections on the subject of Amours. [4]. Goethe’s novel is really more of a thought experiment about enlightenment than anything else. In it, a hyperrational couple invite into their home a pair of outsiders, only to discover that the foreign elements bring with them dangerous forces of elective affinity. The four main characters find themselves reshuffling their relations according to these affinities, and the results are devastating.”

Markovits goes on to state that the point that Goethe made—and that Clough worries about—is that there is nothing genuinely elective about elective affinities: we have no choice in these matters, other than the choice to oppose our inherent passions. She also states that Clough interjected further on this issue, in regards to “mechanical ethics”, the teaching of behaviors, and passions, in his “1849 (Roma) Notebook”.

1. Armstrong, John. (2006). Love, Life, Goethe: How to Be Happy in an Imperfect World (Ch. 6: Elective Affinities, pgs. 357-; chemistry, pgs. 362, 368). Allen Lane.
2. Markovits, Stefanie. (2006). The Crisis of Action in Nineteenth-Century Literature (pgs. 72-73). Ohio State University Press.
3. (a) Crawford, Mary C. (1911). Goethe and His Women Friends. Little, Brown.
(b) Mary Caroline Crawford (1874-1932) –

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