This book offers a comprehensive account of vitalism and the Romantic philosophy of nature. The author explores the rise of biology as a unified science in Germany by reconstructing the history of the notion of “vital force,” starting from the mid-eighteenth through the early nineteenth century. Further, he argues that Romantic Naturphilosophie played a crucial role in the rise of biology in Germany, especially thanks to its treatment of teleology. In fact, both post-Kantian philosophers and naturalists were guided by teleological (...) principles in defining the object of biological research. The book begins by considering the problem of generation, focusing on the debate over the notion of “formative force.” Readers are invited to engage with the epistemological status of this formative force, i.e. the question of the principle behind organization. The second chapter provides a reconstruction of the physiology of vital forces as it was elaborated in the mid- to late-eighteenth century by the group of physicians and naturalists known as the “Göttingen School.” Readers are shown how these authors developed an understanding of the animal kingdom as a graded series of organisms with increasing functional complexity. Chapter three tracks the development of such framework in Romantic Naturphilosophie. The author introduces the reader to the problem of classification, showing how Romantic philosophers of nature regarded classification as articulated by a unified plan that connects all living forms with one another, relying on the idea of living nature as a universal organism. In the closing chapter, this analysis shows how the three instances of pre-biological discourse on living beings – theory of generation, physiology and natural history – converged to form the consolidated disciplinary matrix of a general biology. The book offers an insightful read for all scholars interested in classical German philosophy, especially those researching the philosophy of nature, as well as the history and philosophy of biology. (shrink)
This paper presents what we call ‘Hegel's philosophy of biology’ to a target audience of both Hegel scholars and philosophers of biology. It also serves to introduce a special issue of theHegel Bulletinentirely dedicated to a first mapping of this yet to be explored domain of Hegel studies. We submit that Hegel's philosophy of biology can be understood as a radicalization of the Kantian approach to organisms, and as prefiguring current philosophy of biology in important ways, especially with regard to (...) the nature of biological organization, the role of teleology in biological explanation, and the relation between life and cognition. (shrink)
We outline an alternative to both scientific and liberal naturalism which attempts to reconcile Sellars’ apparently conflicting commitments to the scientific accountability of human nature and the autonomy of the space of reasons. Scientific naturalism holds that agency and associated concepts are a mechanical product of the realm of laws, while liberal naturalism contends that the autonomy of the space of reason requires that we leave nature behind. The third way we present follows in the footsteps of German Idealism, which (...) attempted to overcome the Kantian chasm between nature and agency, and is thus dubbed ‘post-Kantian.’ We point to an overlooked group of scholars in the naturalism debate who, along with recent work in biology and cognitive science, offer a path to overcome the reductive tendencies of empiricism while avoiding the dichotomy of logical spaces. We then bring together these different streams of research, by foregrounding and expanding on what they share: the idea of organisms as living agents and that of a continuity without identity between life and mind. We qualify this as a bottom-up transformative approach to rational agency, which grounds cognition in the intrinsically purposive nature of organisms, while emphasizing the distinction between biological agency and full-fledged mindedness. (shrink)
We characterize Hegel’s stance on biological purposiveness as consisting in a twofold move, which conceives organisms as intrinsically purposive natural systems and focuses on their behavioral and cognitive abilities. We submit that a Hegelian stance is at play in enactivism, the branch of the contemporary theory of biological autonomy devoted to the study of cognition and the mind. What is at stake in the Hegelian stance is the elaboration of a naturalized, although non-reductive, understanding of natural purposiveness.
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach is widely known as the father of German vitalism and his notion of Bildungstrieb, or nisus formativus, has been recognized as playing a key role in the debates about generation in German-speaking countries around 1800. On the other hand, Caspar Friedrich Wolff was the first to employ a vitalist notion, namely that of vis essentialis, in the explanatory framework of epigenetic development. Is there a difference between Wolff’s vis essentialis and Blumenbach’s nisus formativus? How does this difference (...) influence their overall understanding of the epigenetic process? The paper aims to provide an answer to these questions through the analysis of a little-known document, which contributes to shed light on a crucial chapter of the German life sciences in the late eighteenth-century, namely the decisive phase of the process that led to the formalization of biology as a unified field of inquiry at the beginning of the nineteenth century. (shrink)
The paper proposes a dialectical approach to our understanding of the relation between teleology and mechanism. This approach is dialectical both in form and content. In _form_, it proposes a contemporary interpretation of Hegel’s metaphysical account of teleology. This account is grounded in a dialectical methodology, which consists in scrutinizing the inherent limitations of a theoretical position that lead it to suppress itself and evolve into a better one. I apply the same methodology to the function debate. For Hegel, teleology (...) can be understood in three main variants, which can be fruitfully mapped onto the three main positions in the function debate, the key conceptual distinction being whether teleological principles are understood as extrinsic or intrinsic. When it comes to autonomous systems, i.e. systems that embody the regime of _Geist_, extrinsic functionality must be grounded in intrinsic functionality. My approach is dialectical also in _content_, insofar as it concludes that intrinsic functional ascriptions rely on the relation of co-determination between the parts and the whole of a system, as well as between the system and its environment. (shrink)
The paper focuses on the work of Lorenz Oken in an attempt to make sense of the role played by RomanticNaturphilosophiein the development of natural history in Germany at the turn of the nineteenth century. It first focuses on the role played by Schelling and his Würzburg circle in the development of Oken's early views on natural history, then reconstructs Oken's mature programme for a reform of animal classification.
The paper proposes a novel reading of Schelling’s speculative physics in light of debates concerning the notion of emergence in philosophy of science. We begin by highlighting Schelling’s disruptive potential with regard to the contemporary philosophical landscape, currently polarized over a false dichotomy between reductionist Humeanism and liberal Kantianism. We then argue that a broadly Schellingian approach to nature is unwittingly being revived by a group of scholars promoting a non-mainstream process account of emergence based on the notion of constraint (...) and grounded in far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics. Such an account, we argue, represents an effective theoretical platform to re-read Schelling’s philosophy of nature today. This reading provides a picture of life and mind as emerging out of self-organizing processes that take place through the self-inhibition of nature’s inherent tendency to disorder. (shrink)
The paper focuses on the reception of Kant’s philosophy of biology in the context of the so-called ‘Göttingen School’. Timothy Lenoir has tried to rehabilitate the framework elaborated at Göttingen by stressing its difference from Naturphilosophie. Focusing on the work of Karl Friedrich Kielmeyer this paper argues that Lenoir’s position is based on a historiographical bias. I take into account Kielmeyer’s stance on physiology, embryology and natural history. This analysis reveals the existence of a clear shift from a regulative to (...) a constitutive understanding of teleology. I agree with Zammito that the ‘Lenoir thesis’ should be overcome in favor of a more accurate narrative of the emergence of biology in Germany at the turn of the nineteenth century. (shrink)