Article ID: CBB912515221

Laws of organization and chemical analysis: Blainville and Müller (2016)


When “general physiology” emerged as a basic field of research within biology in the early nineteenth century, Henri Ducrotay de Blainville (1777–1850) on the one hand and Johannes Peter Müller (1801–1858) on the other appealed to chemical analysis to account for the properties and operations of organisms that were observed to differ from what was found in inorganic compounds. Their aim was to establish laws of vital organization that would be based on organic chemical processes, but would also be of use to explain morphological and functional differences among life forms. The intent of this paper is to specify for each of these leading physiologists the different presuppositions that provided theoretical frameworks for their interpretation of what they conceived of as laws of organization underpinning the dynamics of vital phenomena. Blainville presumed that the properties of organic compounds depended on the chemical properties of their constitutive molecules, but combined according to patterns of functional development, and that the latter could only be inferred from an empirical survey of modes of organization across the spectrum of life forms. For Müller, while all vital processes involved chemical reactions, in the formative and functional operations of organisms, these reactions would result from the action of life forces that were responsible for the production of organic combinations and thus for vital and animal functions. As both physiologists set significant methodological patterns for their many disciples and followers, their respective quasi-reductionist and anti-reductionist positions need to be accounted for.

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Authors & Contributors
Lohff, Brigitte
Woodward, William R.
Hagner, Michael
Wahrig-Schmidt, Bettina
Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg
Wade, Nicholas J.
Journal of the History of the Neurosciences
Journal of the History of Biology
Isis: International Review Devoted to the History of Science and Its Cultural Influences
Medical History
Sitzungsberichte der Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde zu Berlin
Histoire et Nature
Science History Publications
Oxford University Press
MIT Press
Human physiology
Müller, Johannes Peter
Blainville, Henri Marie Ducrotay de
Helmholtz, Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von
Lotze, Rudolf Hermann
Biederman, Charles Joseph
Comte, Auguste
Time Periods
19th century
Central Europe: Germany, Austria, Switzerland
Gesellschaft Naturforschender Freunde zu Berlin

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