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Mechanism, vitalism and organicism in late nineteenth and twentieth-century biology: the importance of historical context.
Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. 2005 Jun; 36(2):261-83.SH

Abstract

The term 'mechanism' has been used in two quite different ways in the history of biology. Operative, or explanatory mechanism refers to the step-by-step description or explanation of how components in a system interact to yield a particular outcome (as in the 'mechanism of enzyme action' or the 'mechanism of synaptic transmission'). Philosophical Mechanism, on the other hand, refers to a broad view of organisms as material entities, functioning in ways similar to machines--that is, carrying out a variety of activities based on known chemical and physical processes. In the early twentieth century philosophical Mechanism became the foundation of a 'new biology' that sought to establish the life sciences on the same solid and rigorous foundation as the physical sciences, including a strong emphasis on experimentation. In the context of the times this campaign was particularly aimed at combating the reintroduction of more holistic, non-mechanical approaches into the life sciences (organicism, vitalism). In so doing, Mechanists failed to see some of the strong points of non-vitalistic holistic thinking. The two approaches are illustrated in the work of Jacques Loeb and Hans Spemann.

Authors+Show Affiliations

Department of Biology, Washington University, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA. allen@biology2.wustl.edu

Pub Type(s)

Historical Article
Journal Article

Language

eng

PubMed ID

19260192

Citation

Allen, Garland E.. "Mechanism, Vitalism and Organicism in Late Nineteenth and Twentieth-century Biology: the Importance of Historical Context." Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, vol. 36, no. 2, 2005, pp. 261-83.
Allen GE. Mechanism, vitalism and organicism in late nineteenth and twentieth-century biology: the importance of historical context. Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. 2005;36(2):261-83.
Allen, G. E. (2005). Mechanism, vitalism and organicism in late nineteenth and twentieth-century biology: the importance of historical context. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 36(2), 261-83.
Allen GE. Mechanism, Vitalism and Organicism in Late Nineteenth and Twentieth-century Biology: the Importance of Historical Context. Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. 2005;36(2):261-83. PubMed PMID: 19260192.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - JOUR T1 - Mechanism, vitalism and organicism in late nineteenth and twentieth-century biology: the importance of historical context. A1 - Allen,Garland E, PY - 2009/3/6/entrez PY - 2005/6/1/pubmed PY - 2009/3/21/medline SP - 261 EP - 83 JF - Studies in history and philosophy of biological and biomedical sciences JO - Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci VL - 36 IS - 2 N2 - The term 'mechanism' has been used in two quite different ways in the history of biology. Operative, or explanatory mechanism refers to the step-by-step description or explanation of how components in a system interact to yield a particular outcome (as in the 'mechanism of enzyme action' or the 'mechanism of synaptic transmission'). Philosophical Mechanism, on the other hand, refers to a broad view of organisms as material entities, functioning in ways similar to machines--that is, carrying out a variety of activities based on known chemical and physical processes. In the early twentieth century philosophical Mechanism became the foundation of a 'new biology' that sought to establish the life sciences on the same solid and rigorous foundation as the physical sciences, including a strong emphasis on experimentation. In the context of the times this campaign was particularly aimed at combating the reintroduction of more holistic, non-mechanical approaches into the life sciences (organicism, vitalism). In so doing, Mechanists failed to see some of the strong points of non-vitalistic holistic thinking. The two approaches are illustrated in the work of Jacques Loeb and Hans Spemann. SN - 1369-8486 UR - https://www.unboundmedicine.com/medline/citation/19260192/Mechanism_vitalism_and_organicism_in_late_nineteenth_and_twentieth_century_biology:_the_importance_of_historical_context_ L2 - https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1369-8486(05)00019-1 DB - PRIME DP - Unbound Medicine ER -