Mechanism, vitalism and organicism in late nineteenth and twentieth-century biology: the importance of historical context

The term ‘mechanism’ has been used in two quite different ways in the history of biology. Operative, or explanatory mechanism refers to the step-by-step description or explanation of how components in a system interact to yield a particular outcome . Philosophical Mechanism, on the other hand, refers to a broad view of organisms as material entities, functioning in ways similar to machines — that is, carrying out a variety of activities based on known chemical and physical processes. In the early twentieth century philosophical Mechanism became the foundation of a ‘new biology’ that sought to establish the life sciences on the same solid and rigorous foundation as the physical sciences, including a strong emphasis on experimentation. In the context of the times this campaign was particularly aimed at combating the reintroduction of more holistic, non-mechanical approaches into the life sciences . In so doing, Mechanists failed to see some of the strong points of non-vitalistic holistic thinking. The two approaches are illustrated in the work of Jacques Loeb and Hans Spemann
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2005.03.003
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References found in this work BETA
Paul Fleming, Rüdiger Campe & Kirk Wetters (2012). Introduction. Telos: Critical Theory of the Contemporary 2012 (158):3-7.
J. Loeb (1913). The Mechanistic Conception of Life. Philosophical Review 22 (2):226-227.

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Daniel J. Nicholson (2012). The Concept of Mechanism in Biology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 43 (1):152-163.
Charles T. Wolfe (2014). The Organism as Ontological Go-Between. Hybridity, Boundaries and Degrees of Reality in its Conceptual History. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 1:

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