Between Teleology and Mechanism: A Philosopher Looks at the History of the Concept of Organism

29 Nov 2012
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

470 Stephens Hall

Event Type

Spyridon Koutroufinis
Professor, Technical University of Berlin

The concept of the organism is fundamental to biology. After a decades-long neglect of its importance in the shadow of molecular biology, developments in ontogenetic, evolutionary, and cognitive research have brought the concept of organism back to the center of scientific and philosophical attention. The concept of the organism in the western intellectual tradition can be traced back to pre-Socratic philosophy and has evolved in concert with ideas about the nature of social organization. This talk traces the correlations between transitions in social organization and changes in organismic theory as they developed historically. In the process Koutroufinis outlines the evolution of organismic theory from ancient times up to the 21st century, focusing on the tension between two antagonistic concepts – teleology and mechanism. Special attention is paid to how this tension influenced revolutionary changes in biology in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries and how the development of the concept of entropy in 19th Century and maximum entropy production in the 20th Century has shaped current biological thought.

This event is sponsored by CSTMS.
Additional sponsorship comes from:  Berkeley Program in Science and Technology Studies • Office for the History of Science and Technology
Office for the History of Science and Technology

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