Article ID: CBB000770690

Mechanism, Vitalism and Organicism in Late Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Biology: The Importance of Historical Context (2005)


Allen, Garland E. (Author)

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Volume: 36
Pages: 261--283

Publication Date: 2005
Edition Details: Part of a special issue: “Mechanisms in Biology”
Language: English

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 (as in the `mechanism of enzyme action' or the `mechanism of synaptic transmission'). 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 (organicism, vitalism). 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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Article Craver, Carl F.; Darden, Lindley (2005) Introduction. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (p. 233). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Wolfe, Charles T.
Peterson, Erik L.
Donohue, Christopher R.
Riskin, Jessica
Steigerwald, Joan
Normandin, Sebastian
Journal of the History of Biology
Science in Context
Science and Education
Early Science and Medicine: A Journal for the Study of Science, Technology and Medicine in the Pre-modern Period
British Journal for the History of Science
Biological Theory
University of Pittsburgh Press
Springer Nature
Cortina Editore
University of Chicago
Mechanism; mechanical philosophy
Stahl, Georg Ernst
Loeb, Jacques
Spemann, Hans
Sherrington, Charles Scott
Lamarck, Jean Baptiste Antoine Pierre de Monet de
Thoroddsen, Thorvaldur
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
18th century
20th century, early
17th century
Early modern
Naples (Italy)
Cambridge (England)
Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Biologie, Berlin
Stazione Zoologica di Napoli

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