Article ID: CBB000771310

Styles of Reasoning in Early to Mid-Victorian Life Research: Analysis:Synthesis and Palaetiology (2007)


To better understand the work of pre-Darwinian British life researchers in their own right, this paper discusses two different styles of reasoning. On the one hand there was analysis:synthesis, where an organism was disintegrated into its constituent parts and then reintegrated into a whole; on the other hand there was palaetiology, the historicist depiction of the progressive specialization of an organism. This paper shows how each style allowed for development, but showed it as moving in opposite directions. In analysis:synthesis, development proceeded centripetally, through the fusion of parts. Meanwhile in palaetiology, development moved centrifugally, through the ramifying specialization of an initially simple substance. I first examine a community of analytically oriented British life researchers, exemplified by Richard Owen, and certain technical questions they considered important. These involved the neurosciences, embryology, and reproduction and regeneration. The paper then looks at a new generation of British palaetiologists, exemplified by W.B. Carpenter and T.H. Huxley, who succeeded at portraying analysts' questions as irrelevant. The link between styles of reasoning and physical sites is also explored. Analysts favored museums, which facilitated the examination and display of unchanging marine organisms while providing a power base for analysts. I suggest that palaetiologists were helped by vivaria, which included marine aquaria and Wardian cases. As they became popular in the early 1850s, vivaria provided palaetiologists with a different kind of living and changing evidence. Forms of evidence, how they were preserved and examined, and career options all reinforced each other: social and epistemic factors thus merged.


Description Comparison of reasoning styles in developmental biology---“analysis: synthesis” exemplified by Richard Owen and “palaetiology” exemplified by W. B. Carpenter and T. H. Huxley.

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Authors & Contributors
Smith, Christopher Upham Murray
Smith, C. U. M.
Brigandt, Ingo
Ospovat, Dov
Cosans, Christopher
Gross, Charles G.
Journal of the History of Biology
Biology and Philosophy
Natural History
Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Fourth Estate
Indiana University Press
University of Chicago Press
University of Pittsburgh
Developmental biology
Controversies and disputes
Owen, Richard
Huxley, Thomas Henry
Carpenter, William Benjamin
Baer, Karl Ernst von
Mantell, Gideon Algernon
Green, Joseph Henry
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
18th century
17th century
21st century
British Isles
Great Britain
Botanic Garden (Calcutta, India)

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