Article ID: CBB001220959

French Roots of French Neo-Lamarckisms, 1879--1985 (2011)


This essay attempts to describe the neo-Lamarckian atmosphere that was dominant in French biology for more than a century. Firstly, we demonstrate that there were not one but at least two French neo-Lamarckian traditions. This implies, therefore, that it is possible to propose a clear definition of a (neo)Lamarckian conception, and by using it, to distinguish these two traditions. We will see that these two conceptions were not dominant at the same time. The first French neo-Lamarckism (1879--1931) was structured by a very mechanic view of natural processes. The main representatives of this first period were scientists such as Alfred Giard (1846--1908), Gaston Bonnier (1853--1922) and Félix Le Dantec (1869--1917). The second Lamarckism -- much more vitalist in its inspiration -- started to develop under the supervision of people such as Albert Vandel (1894--1980) and Pierre-Paul Grassé (1895--1985). Secondly, this essay suggests that the philosophical inclinations of these neo-Lamarckisms reactivated a very ancient and strong dichotomy of French thought. One part of this dichotomy is a material, physicalist tradition, which started with René Descartes but developed extensively during the 18th and 19th centuries. The other is a spiritual and vitalist reaction to the first one, which also had a very long history, though it is most closely associated with the work of Henri Bergson. Through Claude Bernard, the first neo-Lamarckians tried to construct a mechanical and determinist form of evolutionary theory which was, in effect, a Cartesian theory. The second wave of neo-Lamarckians wanted to reconsider the autonomy and reactivity of life forms, in contrast to purely physical systems.

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Authors & Contributors
Loison, Laurent
Waizbort, Ricardo
Martins, Lilian Al-Chueyer Pereira
Brzezinski Prestes, María Elice de
Stefano, Waldir
Peterson, Erik L.
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Journal of the History of Biology
Biology and Philosophy
Llull: Revista de la Sociedad Española de Historia de las Ciencias y de las Técnicas
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Science and Education
Fundo Mackenzie de Pesquisa
University of Pittsburgh Press
Springer Nature
Philosophy of biology
Mechanism; mechanical philosophy
Lamarck, Jean Baptiste Antoine Pierre de Monet de
Spencer, Herbert
Spemann, Hans
Loeb, Jacques
Senebier, Jean
Jennings, Herbert Spencer
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
21st century
20th century, early
United States

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