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The Science and Philosophy of Organism, vol. 1

1906 to 1908
University of Aberdeen

Driesch’s Philosophy and the Science of Organism has as its main theme the 'Philosophy of Organism as aided and supported by scientific biology' (15). In order that the philosophy of living nature be expounded and understood, Driesch provides his reader with a thorough-going account of the biological framework, based around the three fundamental features of a biological organism: form, metabolism and movement. This (scientific) investigation and exposition make up the content of the first volume and around one-third of volume 2, the remainder of which deals with the philosophical enquiry. The lecture series in published form, therefore, is broken down into two sections: section A, 'The Chief Results of Analytical Biology', and section B, 'The Philosophy of the Organism'.

Section A is composed of three parts, the first two of which are contained in volume 1. Part 1 deals with the exposition of 'the individual with regard to form and metabolism'.

The part is broken down into four divisions, the first of which (A) discusses elementary morphogenesis – roughly cell to embryo development with a discussion of the constraints on pure description in science. Division B deals in detail with experimental and theoretical morphogenesis beginning with the foundations of the physiology of development (detailing Weismann’s theory along with the work of Willhelm Roux) and continuing into a discussion on the analytical theory of morphogenesis, where Driesch treats such subjects as the distribution of morphogenetic potencies, the 'means' of morphogenesis, and morphogenetic harmonies. These themes are further treated in the remainder of division B when Driesch turns his attention to the evidences for the morphogenetic autonomy (or the proof of the autonomy of life). Division C takes up the topic of Adaption, discussing some of the limits of the concept in morphology and physiological adaption more broadly. Finally, part 1 concludes with an account of biological inheritance and its significance for the autonomy of life.

Part 2 of section A is devoted to Systematics and History, beginning in division A with a discussion of both rational and biological systematics, while division B discusses the theory of descent - outlining the covert presumption of all such theories before discussing the principles of Darwinism (natural selection and its failure as a general theory of descent) and of Lamarckism (where the principle of inheritance of acquired characters comes under criticism). Driesch also looks at the results and unsolved problems of transformism and the logical value of the organic form according to such theories in division B, before finally, in division C, he turns to the logic of history, where he addresses possible aspects of history, phylogenetic possibilities and the history of humanity. Part 2 (and volume 1) concludes with the claim that 'it is from the study of the living individual only, that we have so far gained elemental principles in biology' (324). The second volume in the series hopes to establish, in the first place, more proofs of the autonomy of life, which will set the ground for enabling a discussion of the 'real philosophy of life' that is, the philosophy of the individual.

  • Jon Cameron, University of Aberdeen