Study Guide

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman Science

By Laurence Sterne


Let's just say that no one adheres to the scientific process in Tristram Shandy. Knowledge is one thing—it can be good or bad—but Shandy-style science is guaranteed to be useless. Reason and empiricism (think the scientific method) were super important, and Tristram cites a number of famous scientists and up-to-date discoveries, as well as some outdated theories. It's almost as though Tristram is setting up his novel against science: both offer ways of understanding the world, and it's pretty clear which one is winning.

Questions About Science

  1. Does science or medicine do any good in the novel? Does anyone benefit from it?
  2. What is the difference between science and knowledge? Is "science" a subset of knowledge, or are they two different fields entirely?
  3. Toby's military understanding is sometimes referred to as "science." Does military science get treated any more respectfully than medical science?

Chew on This

Dr. Slop's portrayal in the novel is evidence that Tristram Shandy disapproves of science.

In Tristram Shandy, science is not just something to be mocked—it's actively dangerous.

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