On the Heuristic Value of Hans Driesch’s Vitalism

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In the frst half of the twentieth century the harshest critics of Hans
Driesch’s vitalistic theory depicted it as an animistic view driven by metaphysical
moods, while others merely saw it as a barren hypothesis. In the last decades the
heuristic value of vitalistic principles was nevertheless suggested. In this chapter I
examine the epistemic role of Driesch’s critical vitalism in the progress of embryology. I frst show that it did not contribute to falsify mechanical explanations of
development such as Wilhelm Roux’s mosaic theory and Driesch’s own embryonic
induction model. However, Driesch’s argumentation for vitalism led to the fnal
formulation of the most challenging developmental explanandum of the twentieth
century: the harmonious-equipotential system (HES). I point out how major explanans like Charles M. Child’s metabolic gradients, Hans Spemann’s induction felds
and Lewis Wolpert’s positional information were conceived as promising answers
to Driesch’s problem

This content has been updated on 27 March 2023 at 14 h 11 min.