Article ID: CBB001552116

More than the Parts: W. E. Ritter, the Scripps Marine Association, and the Organismal Conception of Life (2015)


In 1903, the Scripps Marine Association was founded in La Jolla, San Diego. It was rechristened the Scripps Institution of Oceanography two decades later. Today it is one of the largest marine research institutions in the world. The present study aims to reconstruct the history of this institution during the first years of its existence, the life of its first director, W. E. Ritter, and the cultural and scientific background of both. In particular, through the use of archival sources and unpublished materials, the essay reports on Ritter's dream to import a form of holistic biology from Europe to southern California. This biology, which Ritter termed “organismal,” had to challenge reductionist and mechanist approaches to life sciences, including Weismann's and Mendelian's theories of heredity, both considered ideologically biased, politically dangerous, and scientifically flawed. Ritter believed that his new biology had to be grounded in a pluralist approach where laboratory and field investigations went hand in hand. In addition, the new biology had to support a progressivist political agenda whereby biological studies were linked with the political progress and the democratization of California and the United States. Despite its ambitions, Ritter's research program was rapidly forgotten after the 1930s. In the conclusion, the article explores a few possible hypotheses explaining why this happened.

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Authors & Contributors
Guttinger, Stephan
Bernstein, Anya
Bennet, Cynthia D.
Schilling, Johannes
Rainger, Ronald
Primavesi, Oliver
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
Rheinisches Museum für Philologie
Revue d'Histoire des Sciences
Perspectives on Science
Iowa State University
Princeton University Press
Development; growth; life; death
Human physiology
Research institutes; research stations
Kant, Immanuel
Scripps, Edward Willis
Ritter, William Emerson
Waddington, Conrad Hal
Sverdrup, Harald Urlik
Time Periods
20th century, early
19th century
Early modern
20th century
United States
California (U.S.)
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

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