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Driesch, Hans Adolf Eduard (1867–1941)


Hans Adolf Eduard Driesch, perhaps the outstanding representative of neovitalism, was born at Bad Kreuznach, Germany. His father, Paul Driesch, was a merchant in Hamburg. From 1877 Hans Driesch attended the Johanneum (a humanist gymnasium) in his native city, graduating with honors in 1886. He then studied zoology, first under A. Weismann at Freiburg, then at Munich, and finally under Ernst Haeckel at Jena, receiving his Ph.D. in 1889; his dissertation was titled "Tektonische Studien an Hydroidpolypen" (Tectonic studies of hydroid polyps).

Development of Driesch's Thought

Reacting to arguments advanced by G. Wolff, W. His, and A. Goette, Driesch early became skeptical of Haeckel's mechanistic interpretation of the organism. The work of Wilhelm Roux, in particular, induced him to explore the whole vitalism-mechanism issue. Driesch's first publication, Die mathematisch-mechanische Behandlung morphologischer Probleme der Biologie (Mathematico-mechanical treatment of morphological problems of biology; Jena, 1890), led to a break with Haeckel. Then, following Roux's example, Driesch put the embryogenetic theory of His and Weismann to an experimental test. His and Weismann had held that morphogenetic development of the living organism could be explained by assuming that a specifically organized yet invisible structure of great complexity is contained in the nucleus of the germ cell and that the gradual unfolding of this structure, through nuclear division, determines the course of every ontogeny. Roux's experiments, in 1888, had seemed to confirm this theory of "tectonic preformation." When he destroyed one of the blastomeres at the two-cell stage, the remaining one would develop into a half embryoeither the left half or the right half, depending on which blastomere had been destroyed. Driesch merely intended to provide further confirmation of these facts. But where Roux had experimented with the egg of a frog, Driesch used eggs of the sea urchin. Against all expectations he found that each blastomere of the two-cell stage of a sea urchin egg developed into a whole embryo half the normal size. This was the opposite of Roux's results and was irreconcilable with the His-Weismann theory.

While at the Marine Biological Station in Naples, from 1891 to 1900, Driesch continued his experimental investigations, confirming and reconfirming in startling ways his earlier findings, and began to formulate his own theory. Relevant to the development of his ideas was a study of Otto Liebmann's book Analysis der Wirklichkeit (Analysis of reality) and of the writings of Immanuel Kant, Arthur Schopenhauer, René Descartes, John Locke, and David Hume. Alois Riehl's Kritizismus (Criticism) provided the springboard for Driesch's own theoretical efforts. The first results were published in 1893 under the title Die Biologie als selbständige Grundwissenschaft (Biology as an independent basic science; Leipzig). This book was followed by Analytische Theorie der organischen Entwicklung (Analytic theory of organic development; Leipzig, 1894), which contains the first formulation of Driesch's own teleologically oriented embryological theory. But as yet this was a theory of "preformed teleology," not a vitalistic interpretation of embryological development. Only in 1895 did it dawn on Driesch that mechanistic principles could not account for his experimental findings.

Up to this time Driesch had accepted a "machine" theory of organismic development. Now he realized that such a theory would not do. In an essay titled "Die Maschinentheorie des Lebens" (The machine theory of life; in Biologisches Zentralblatt 16 [1896]: 353368) he formulated as precisely as possible the view he had held so far, a view that he did not yet regard as vitalism. His first formulation of a dynamically teleological, and therefore genuinely vitalistic, theory was published under the title Die Lokalisation morphogenetischer Vorgänge, ein Beweis vitalistischen Geschehens (The localization of morphogenetic processes, a proof of vitalistic developments; Leipzig, 1899). In this book Driesch introduced the concept of the "harmonious equipotential system" and the proof that such a system cannot be accounted for in terms of mechanistic principles. The publication of 1899 thus marked the end of one period in Driesch's intellectual development and the beginning of another.

Gradually his interest in experimental work ceased. He now searched the literature in the field of physiology for possible proof that a "machine" theory could provide an adequate explanation of the phenomena of life. He found none, as his two books Die organischen Regulationen (Organic regulations; Leipzig, 1901) and Die "Seele" als elementarer Naturfaktor (The "soul" as elementary factor of nature; Leipzig, 1903) show. However, the conception of the "autonomy" of life had now to be justified within the broader framework of natural science. Driesch provided this justification in a book titled Naturbegriffe und Natururteile (Concepts of nature and judgments of nature; Leipzig, 1904). In 1905 he published Der Vitalismus als Geschichte und als Lehre (The History and Theory of Vitalism ), in which he summed up his position against a historical background. That same year he "resolved to become a philosopher." His Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen in 19071908, published in 1908 as The Science and Philosophy of the Organism, provided a splendid opportunity to present his position in systematic form.

From 1908 on, Driesch was concerned exclusively with philosophical problems. In 1909 he became a Privatdozent at Heidelberg and in 1912 a member of the university's philosophical faculty. In 1912, also, he published his basic philosophical work, Ordnungslehre (Theory of order). This was followed by Die Logik als Aufgabe (Logic as a task; Tübingen, 1913) and, in 1917, by Wirklich-keitslehre (Theory of reality). These three books togetherranging as they do over the fields of epistemology, logic, and metaphysicsembody the whole of Driesch's philosophical system, but they do not mark the end of his intellectual development. In Leib und Seele (Body and soul; 1916) Driesch set forth his definitive arguments against every "psycho-mechanical parallelism," and in Wissen und Denken (Knowing and thinking; Leipzig, 1919) he clarified and expanded his epistemological position.

In 1919 Driesch accepted a chair of systematic philosophy at the University of Cologne and in 1921 assumed a similar post at the University of Leipzig. During 19221923 he was a visiting professor in China. In 19261927 he lectured in the United States and in Buenos Aires. Being out of sympathy with the Nazi regime, ideologically and politically, he was retired in 1933. Adolf Hitler could not tolerate a thinker who fervently believed that nationalism was but "an obstacle to the realization of the one State of God." During the time of changing appointments, Driesch became interested more and more in problems of psychology and parapsychology. Books published in 1932 and 1938 reflect this development.

Driesch's Philosophy

Although known primarily as one of the leading neovitalists, Driesch was also a critical realist and an "inductive" metaphysician. His system as a whole is developed most fully and most systematically in his Ordnungslehre and his Wirklichkeitslehre.

In his Gifford Lectures Driesch had evolved the argument that the phenomena of ontogenetic development, as revealed in his own experimental work, can be explained only when we assume the existence and the efficacy of some nonmechanistic and "whole-making" factor in nature, which Driesch called entelechy. This entelechy, "lacking all the characteristics of quantity," is not some special kind of energy, not a "constant" or a "force." It is not in space or in time but acts into space and into time. Entelechy, Driesch confessed, is "entelechy, an elementary factor sui generis" that "acts teleologically." But even Driesch could not blind himself to the fact that such a definition of his key concept is essentially meaningless because it is defined only negatively. He therefore tried, in his Ordnungslehre, to show that the conception of entelechy is logically legitimate after all.

Starting with the "irreducible and inexplicable primordial fact" that "knowing about my knowledge, I know something," Driesch found in his experience "primordial concepts of order the meaning of which I, as the experiencing subject, grasp only 'intuitively'" (Bedeutungsschau ), and that the experience as a whole presses on toward our "seeing everything in order." The method through which this "order" is revealed is that of "positing" or "discriminating" "objects of experience." It is necessary, however, to distinguish between "positing" (setzen ) and "implicitly positing" (mitsetzen ). What is "posited" may, in turn, "implicitly posit" something else. The whole procedure implies that the "object" is always "my" object (since I "posit" it), not some "thing-in-itself." To postulate an "objectivity" as a reality independent of, and separated from, "my" experience would involve a fallacy. Still, we must somehow transcend this "methodological subjectivism" by attempting to obtain a complete view of the totality of experience, actual and possible. In constructing this "whole" we are to be guided by the principle of economy: Only necessary steps should be taken, for "order" is perfect only when it includes everything necessary but nothing more. Now, upon inspection, I find that the experience I have is such that I can always select some specific part of it and identify it as "this," or as A. But as soon as I have posited a "this," all the rest of my experience has become a "nonthis," and the basic principle of noncontradiction"this is not nonthis"emerges. Moreover, when I posit a "this" and define it as A, I have before me (1) the concept A and (2) the judgment "A is there" or "A exists" (at least as an object for me). But let us now assume that some particular object A has the discernible attributes abcd, whereas some other object A has the attributes acd. The objects are clearly different, but A includes A , or "A implicitly posits A ." Thus, the posit "wolf" implicitly posits "beast of prey," and any existing wolf implicitly posits an existing beast of prey. By extension, we obtain "A posits A , and A posits a ; therefore, A posits a. " The principles of logic, thus, have their basis in our intuitive experience of order. The same is true, of course, of arithmetic and geometry. In fact, it is the aim of Driesch's general theory of order to disclose all the primordial elements of order first given in basic intuition.

Among "my" experiences there are some that I "have had before"; I "remember" them. This fact opens up an entirely new dimension of experience. But given this new dimension, I can now establish a remarkable order in my experience if I regard some of the objects of my immediate experience as an indication of the "being" or the "becoming" of an X that behaves as if it were independent of my experience of it; that is, it behaves as if it were a self-sufficient "realm of nature" in which the bipolar "cause-effect" relationship prevails. However, since, on the one hand, the effect cannot be richer in content than is its cause but, on the other hand, the living individual is a "whole" that is more than the sum of its parts, a close scrutiny of experience led Driesch to distinguish between a "merely mechanical causality" (Einzelheitskausalität ) and a "whole-making causality" (Ganzheitskausalität ) that involves more than merely additive changes. In ontogenetic development, for example, a mere sum of "equipotentialities" is thus transformed into the "wholeness" of the mature organism. "Restitution" and "adaptations," experimentally demonstrable, are manifestations of this "whole-making" causality. The living organism itself, in its indisputable wholeness, is the most obvious result of Ganzheitskausalität. Thus, vitalism finds its justification within Driesch's epistemology.

At the psychological and cultural levels, "whole-making causality" predominates, and Driesch posited "my soul" as "the unconscious foundation" of my conscious experience. The "soul," therefore, is also "posited in the service of order." "My primordial knowing of the meaning of order and my primordial willing of order indicate a certain primordial state and dynamics of my soul." "The working of 'my soul' [which guides my 'actions'] and certain states [of my soul] are 'parallel' to 'my conscious havings.'" "This sounds very artificial," Driesch admitted, "but logic is a very artificial instrument." When Driesch took up this theme again, in his Wirklichkeitslehre, he argued that "metaphysically," "my soul and my entelechy are One in the sphere of the Absolute." And it is at the level of the Absolute only that we can speak of "psycho-physical interaction." But the Absolute, so understood, transcends all possibilities of our knowing, and it is "an error to take, as did G. W. F. Hegel, the sum of its traces for the Whole."

All considerations of normal mental life lead us only to the threshold of the unconscious; it is in dreamlike and certain abnormal cases of mental life that we encounter "the depths of our soul." And in parapsychological phenomenaespecially in telepathy, mind reading, clairvoyance, telekinesis, and materialization (all of which Driesch accepted as proved facts)we find traces of a supra-individual wholeness. More important, however, our sense of duty also points toward a supra-personal whole, which, in the course of history, is continuously evolving. "In my experience of duty I am participating in the supra-personal whole of which I am an empirical embodiment, and it is as if I had some knowledge about the final outcome of the development of that whole." That is to say, my sense of duty indicates the general direction of the supra-personal development. The ultimate goal, however, remains unknown. From this point of view, history took on its particular meaning for Driesch.

Throughout his work Driesch's orientation is intended to be essentially empirical. Any argument concerning the nature of the ultimately Real will therefore have to be hypothetical only. It starts with the affirmation of the "given" as consequent of a conjectural "ground." His guiding principle in the realm of metaphysics amounts to this: The Real that I posit must be so constituted that it implicitly posits all our experience. If we can conceive and posit such a Real, then all laws of nature, and all true principles and formulas of the sciences, will merge into it, and our experiences will all be "explained" by it. And since our experience is a mixture of wholeness (the organic and the mental realms) and nonwholeness (the material world), Reality itself must be such that I can posit a dualistic foundation of the totality of my experience. In fact, there is nothingnot even within the ultimately Realto bridge the gap between wholeness and nonwholeness. And this means, for Driesch, that ultimately there is either God and "non-God," or a dualism within God himself. To put it differently, either the theism of the Judeo-Christian tradition or a pantheism of a God continually "making himself" and transcending his own earlier stages is ultimately reconcilable with the facts of experience. Driesch himself found it impossible to decide between these alternatives. He was sure, however, that a materialistic-mechanistic monism would not do.

See also Continental Philosophy; Critical Realism; Descartes, René; Haeckel, Ernst Heinrich; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Hume, David; Kant, Immanuel; Locke, John; Riehl, Alois; Schopenhauer, Arthur; Vitalism.


additional works by driesch

Der Vitalismus als Geschichte und als Lehre, Leipzig, 1905. Translated as The History and Theory of Vitalism. London, 1914. Rev. German ed., Geschichte des Vitalismus. Leipzig, 1922.

The Science and Philosophy of the Organism, 2 vols. London: A. and C. Black, 1908. Translated into German as Philosophie des Organischen. Rev. ed., Leipzig, 1921.

Zwei Vorträge zur Naturphilosophie. Leipzig, 1910.

Die Biologie als selbständige Grundwissenschaft und das System der Biologie. Leipzig, 1911.

Ordnungslehre, ein System des nichtmetaphysischen Teiles der Philosophie. Jena, 1912; rev. ed., 1923.

The Problem of Individuality. London: Macmillan, 1914.

Leib und Seele, eine Prüfung des psycho-physischen Grund-problems. Leipzig, 1916; rev. ed., 1920; 3rd ed., 1923. Translated as Mind and Body. New York: Dial Press, 1927.

Wirklichkeitslehre, ein metaphysischer Versuch. Leipzig, 1917; rev. ed., 1922.

Das Problem der Freiheit. Berlin, 1917; rev. ed., Darmstadt, 1920.

Das Ganze und die Summe. Leipzig, 1921. Inaugural address at the University of Leipzig.

" Mein System und sein Werdegang." In Die Philosophie der Gegenwart in Selbstdarstellung, Vol. I, edited by R. Schmidt. Leipzig, 1923. One of the more than 100 articles that Driesch published.

Metaphysik. Breslau, 1924.

The Possibility of Metaphysics. London, 1924.

Relativitätstheorie und Philosophie. Karlsruhe, 1924.

The Crisis in Psychology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1925.

Grundprobleme der Psychologie. Leipzig, 1926.

Metaphysik der Natur. Munich, 1926.

Die sittliche Tat. Leipzig, 1927.

Biologische Probleme höherer Ordnung. Leipzig, 1927; rev. ed., 1944.

Der Mensch und die Welt. Leipzig, 1928. Translated as Man and the Universe. London, 1929.

Ethical Principles in Theory and Practice. London, 1930.

Philosophische Forschungswege. Leipzig, 1930.

Parapsychologie. Leipzig, 1932; 2nd ed., 1943.

Philosophische Gegenwartsfragen. Leipzig, 1933.

Alltagsrätsel des Seelenlebens. Leipzig, 1938; 2nd ed., 1939.

Selbstbesinnung und Selbsterkenntnis. Leipzig, 1940.

Lebenserinnerungen; Augzeichnungen eines Forschers und Denkers in entscheidender Zeit. Edited by Ingeborg Tetaz-Driesch. Basel, 1951. Posthumous.

works on driesch

Child, C. M. "Driesch's Harmonic Equipotential Systems in Form-regulations." Biologisches Zentralblatt 28 (1908).

Fischel, A. Review of Driesch's Gifford Lectures, The Science and Philosophy of the Organism, Vol. I. Archiv für Entwicklungs-Mechanik 26 (1908).

Griffith, O. W. Review of The Problem of Individuality and The History and Theory of Vitalism. Hibbert Journal 13.

Haake, W. "Die Formphilosophie von Hans Driesch und das Wesen des Organismus." Biologisches Zentralblatt 14 (1894).

Heinichen, O. Driesch's Philosophie. Leipzig, 1924.

Jenkinson, J. W. "Vitalism." Hibbert Journal (April 1911).

Jourdain, E. B. P. Review of Ordnungslehre. Mind 23 (1914).

Morgan, T. H. Review of The Science and Philosophy of the Organism, Vol. I. Journal of Philosophy 6 (1909).

Oakeley, H. D. "On Professor Driesch's Attempt to Combine a Philosophy of Life and a Philosophy of Knowledge." PAS, n.s., 21 (19201921).

Oakeley, H. D. Review of Wirklichkeitslehre. Mind 30 (1921).

Russell, L. J. Review of Die Logik als Aufgabe. Mind 23 (1914).

Schaxel, J. "Namen und Wesen des harmonisch-äquipotentiellen Systems." Biologisches Zentralblatt 36 (1916).

Schaxel, J. "Mechanismus, Vitalismus und kritische Biologie." Biologisches Zentralblatt 37 (1917).

Schneider, K. C. "Vitalismus." Biologisches Zentralblatt 25 (1905).

Secerov, Slavko. "Zur Kritik der Entelechielehre von H. Driesch." Biologisches Zentralblatt 31 (1911).

Spaulding, E. G. "Driesch's Theory of Vitalism." Philosophical Review 15 (1906).

Spaulding, E. G. Review of The Science and Philosophy of the Organism, Vols. I and II. Philosophical Review 18 (1909).

Vollenhoven, D. H. T. "Einiges über die Logik in dem Vitalismus von Driesch." Biologisches Zentralblatt 41 (1921).

Wagner, A. "Neo-Vitalismus," I, II. Zeitschrift für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik, Ergänzungsband, 136 (1909).

William H. Werkmeister (1967)

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