Albert van der Schoot

The Pythagorean Disposition

The history of the divine proportion

A fascinating panorama of human hope and (self-)deception

During the twentieth century, art has been stripped of almost every aesthetic ideal. The only absolute norm left is that of the golden ratio. In De ontstelling van Pythagoras Albert van der Schoot delves into why the golden ratio, also known as the golden section or mean, has achieved such a lofty status.

He also traces the historical paths through which this divine proportion has been passed down to us. The result is a fascinating search through history, an unforgettable jaunt over a vast terrain: from philosophy to mathematics, from architecture to biology and psychology.

Van der Schoot’s findings are spectacular. Contrary to common opinion, the golden ratio had no special status in antiquity. Nor did it play the prominent role in the Renaissance that has long been attributed to it. In fact, it is of virtually no significance in nature at all. Nor in psychology, though nineteenth-century psychologists went to great lengths to turn up evidence to the contrary.

So when did the golden ratio become sacrosanct? Van der Schoot discovered that it was the Romantics who first placed it on a pedestal. In the eyes of the Romantics, nature and culture were threatening to drift further and further apart. To bridge the gap, they latched on to the idea of a geometrical relationship with a distinct status not only in nature, but also in art and psychology.

The author’s iconoclastic conclusion in this compelling book is that the golden ratio has no basis in reality, and never had. His journey through the ages is as sobering as it is funny, especially when he describes the theoretical expedients that serious scholars have had to resort to in order to fit the ‘divine proportion’ into their research results. Thanks to this book, an important chapter on the mythology of art and science has now been totally rewritten.

The mask of science is peeled away slowly to reveal a fascinating panorama of human hope and (self-)deception.

NRC Handelsblad

De ontstelling van Pythagoras is a highly original book that takes us off the beaten path, hacks away at the dead wood and comes back to a philosophy crying out for a critical attitude of this kind.

Algemeen Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Wijsbegeerte


Albert van der Schoot

Albert van der Schoot studied Musicology and Philosophy in Amsterdam and Musical Instruction in Budapest. He currently teaches Aesthetics and Cultural Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam.

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De ontstelling van Pythagoras. Over de geschiedenis van de goddelijke proportie (1998). Non-fiction, 442 pages.

With illustrations, notes and references



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NL - 3743 JG Baarn
The Netherlands
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