Article ID: CBB054222289

O Organism, Where Art Thou? Old and New Challenges for Organism-Centered Biology (2019)


This paper addresses theoretical challenges, still relevant today, that arose in the first decades of the twentieth century related to the concept of the organism. During this period, new insights into the plasticity and robustness of organisms as well as their complex interactions fueled calls, especially in the UK and in the German-speaking world, for grounding biological theory on the concept of the organism. This new organism-centered biology (OCB) understood organisms as the most important explanatory and methodological unit in biological investigations. At least three theoretical strands can be distinguished in this movement: Organicism, dialectical materialism, and (German) holistic biology. This paper shows that a major challenge of OCB was to describe the individual organism as a causally autonomous and discrete unit with consistent boundaries and, at the same time, as inextricably interwoven with its environment. In other words, OCB had to conciliate individualistic with anti-individualistic perspectives. This challenge was addressed by developing a concept of life that included functionalist and metabolic elements, as well as biochemical and physical ones. It allowed for specifying organisms as life forms that actively delimit themselves from the environment. Finally, this paper shows that the recent return to the concept of the organism, especially in the so-called “Extended Evolutionary Synthesis,” is challenged by similar anti-individualistic tendencies. However, in contrast to its early-twentieth-century forerunner, today’s organism-centered approaches have not yet offered a solution to this problem.

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Article Jan Baedke (2019) Publisher Correction to: O Organism, Where Art Thou? Old and New Challenges for Organism-Centered Biology. Journal of the History of Biology (pp. 747-747). unapi

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Authors & Contributors
Peterson, Erik L.
Kabeshkin, Anton
Dussault, Antoine C.
Kirchhoff, Thomas
Brogan, Walter
Feigenbaum, Ryan William
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Science in Context
Perspectives in Biology and Medicine
British Journal for the History of Science
British Journal for the History of Philosophy
Villanova University
Yale University Press
University of Chicago Press
Franz Steiner Verlag
Arcade Publishing
Metabolism; physiological chemistry
Bodenheimer, Friedrich Simon
Peus, Fritz
Waddington, Conrad Hal
Elton, Charles Sutherland
Dobzhansky, Theodosius
Whitehead, Alfred North
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
18th century
21st century
20th century, late
20th century, early
Great Britain
Cambridge (England)
United States

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