Preformation and pre-existence in the seventeenth century: A brief analysis

Journal of the History of Biology 4 (2):221-244 (1971)

It is beyond the scope of this paper to describe in detail the rise to popularity of the emboîtement theories during the last decades of the seventeenth century.51 Eventually the theories did gain great influence, but some points emerging from the above discussion indicate that the rise to popularity was not, perhaps, quite as rapid as has sometimes been assumed.52 Although the earlier preformation theories were sometimes regarded as the ancestors of the later ideas,53 there was little intellectual continuity between the two movements, based as they were upon such divergent motivations. Nor can the preformation theories be regarded as the origin of the belief that a miniature can actually be seen within the egg, since the existence of metamorphosis as a perfectly valid alternative to epigenesis meant that the work of Malpighi and others, usually described as “preformationist,” was not always taken in this latter sense at the time it was published. The pre-existence theories developed in response to particular philosophical problems, and were themselves responsible for the reinterpretation of the observations. In France, the thoughts of Malebranche and Perrault were probably already exerting influence before their written support for pre-existence appeared, but elsewhere the idea was not taken up so rapidly, and ovism, for instance, could develop without associating itself with emboîtement. Malpighi always seems to have remained opposed to pre-existence,54 but by the last decade of the century, the idea had become sufficiently powerful to influence Ray and Garden in Britain, and was receiving support from as influential a thinker as Leibniz.55 But Garden and Hartsoeker were responsible for dividing emboîtement between two schools, just as the concept itself was becoming popular. The work of both Malpighi and Leeuwenhoek served as the basis of the animalculist version, illustrating how the microscopic discoveries served as much to disrupt the intellectual development of the emboîtement concept as they did to promote it. *** DIRECT SUPPORT *** A8402051 00002
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DOI 10.1007/BF00138311
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