"Goethe's Plant Morphology: The Seeds of Evolution"

Tanya Kelley, PhD
University of Missouri, Kansas City
It has long been debated whether the scientific writing of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) provided the seeds for the theory of evolution. Scholars have argued both sides with equal passion. German biologist and philosopher, Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) wrote, “Jean and Lamarck and Wolfgang Goethe stand at the head of all the great philosophers of nature who first established a theory of organic development, and who are the illustrious fellow workers of Darwin.”1 Taking the opposite stance was Chancellor of Berlin University, Emil du Bois Reymond (1818-1896). Du Bois was embarrassed by Goethe's forays into science. He wrote, “Beside the poet, the scientist Goethe fades into the background. Let us at long last put him to rest.”2 I argue that Goethe's scientific writings carry in them the seeds of the theory of evolution. Goethe's works on plant morphology reflects the conflicting ideas of his era on the discreteness and on the stability of species. Goethe's theory of plant morphology provides a link between the discontinuous view of nature...
Keywords evolution  history of science  sex  Goethe
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