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Sign Systems Studies

Volume 37, Issue 3/4, 2009


Carlo Brentari
Pages 637-659

Konrad Lorenz’s epistemological criticism towards Jakob von Uexküll

In the work of Lorenz we find an initial phase of great concordance with Uexkülls theory of animals’ surrounding-world (Umweltlehre), followed by a progressive distance and by the occurrence of more and more critical statements. The moment of greater cohesion between Lorenz and Uexküll is represented by the work Der Kumpan, which is focused on the concept of companion, functional circles, social Umwelt. The great change in Lorenz’ evaluation of Uexküll is marked by the conference of 1948 Referat über Jakob von Uexküll, where Lorenz highlights the vitalist position of Uexküll. In the works of the years after World War II, the influence of the Estonian Biologist greatly diminishes, even though Lorenz continues to express his admiration for particular studies and concepts of Uexküll. References to Uexküll’s work are less and far in between, while the difference is highlighted between the uexküllian theoretical frame (vitalistic) and Lorenz’s one (Darwinian and evolutionist). The two main critical lines of argument developed by Lorenz in this process are the biological and the epistemological one: on the biological side Lorenz heavily criticizes Uexküll’s vitalism and his faith in harmonizing forces and supernatural factors (which leads to concepts such as the perfect fusion of all biological species in their environment and the absence of rudimentary organs). On the epistemological side, Lorenz, arguing from the point of view of the critical realism, accuses Uexküll of postulating the separateness of all living beings, a separateness which is due to the Kantian idea that every subject of knowledge and action is imprisoned in the transcendental circle of its representations and attitudes.

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