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The Vitalism of Hans Driesch

The Success and Decline of a Scientific Theory

Series:

Horst Heinz Freyhofer

During the first part of this century, many people in the western world and elsewhere adopted the view that immaterial agents shape the material world - more or less willfully and/or consciously - in accordance with principles whose nature admittedly was little understood, but for that reason needed much scrutiny. According to this view, the presence of these agents (souls, spirits) is manifest in all organic processes, animal life, and human culture - in the creation of artworks as much as in the organization of cells. The two most articulate advocates of this view, the philosopher Henri Bergson and the biologist Hans Driesch, became authors whose works were widely read during the 20es and 30es, but who fell into virtual oblivion since then. This book traces the development of Driesch's decidedly scientific theory of vitalism and tries to give an account of its success and eventual decline.
Contents: Biology before the turn of the century - Haeckel's mechanist theory of evolution - Driesch's antimechanist vitalist theory of life - Vitalism, a theory of nature, man, and the good - The success and decline of Vitalism.