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Sign Systems Studies

Volume 32, Issue 1/2, 2004

Mathias Gutmann
Pages 169-185

Uexküll and contemporary biology
Some methodological reconsiderations

Philosophical anthropology and philosophical biology were both very powerful and influential movements in the German academic discussion of the early 20th century. Starting with a similar conceptual background (particularly with reference to Hans Driesch’s bio-Aristotelism) they aimed at a synthetic philosophy of nature, which was supposed to include human nature into the realm of a monist description of nature itself. Within this field of biophilosophical reasoning, Jakob von Uexküll’s theory of organism and his theoretical biology hold a central place. In this paper, Uexküll’s theoretical biology is reconsidered as a resumption and reformulation of a theory of knowledge from a “Kantian” provenience. Its specific structure as a generalized theory of knowledge is reconstructed and the pitfalls of a biological interpretation of the condition of the possibility of knowledge are outlined. The theory of organism is reconstructed as a centrepiece of Uexküll’s approach. The last section of this paper presents a proposal of engineering morphology which allows the full application of Uexküll’s insights into the relativity of organismic constitution. The usefulness of functional modeling for evolutionary reconstructions on the basis of a theory of organism of uexküllian type and its relevance for biological research is evaluated.

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