A version of (or perhaps little more than an alternative name for) holism, emphasizing the analogy with living organisms, whose parts only are what they are because of, and can only be understood in terms of, their contributions to the whole.

Also see: organic unities

Organicism is the philosophical position which states that the universe and its various parts—including human societies—ought to be considered alive and naturally ordered, much like a living organism.[1][2] Vital to the position is the idea that organicistic elements are not dormant “things” per se but rather dynamic components in a comprehensive system that is, as a whole, ever-changing. Organicism is related to, although remains distinct from, holism insofar as organicism prefigures holism; and the latter concept is applied within a broader scope to universal part-whole interconnections—such as anthropology and sociology—whereas the former is traditionally confined to philosophical and biological applications.[3][4] Further, organicism is incongruous with reductionism, as well; for its (i.e. organicism’s) consideration of “both bottom-up and top-down causation.”[5] Regarded as a fundamental tenet in natural philosophy, organicism has remained a vital current in modern thought, alongside both reductionism and mechanism, that has guided scientific inquiry since the early 17th century.[6][7]

Though there remains dissent among scientific historians concerning organicism’s pregeneration, most scholars agree on Ancient Athens as its birthplace. Because, surfacing in Athenian writing in the 4th-century B.C.E., Plato was among the first philosophers to consider the universe an intelligent living (almost sentient) being, which he first posits in his Socratic dialogue, Philebus, and further expands upon in the later works of Republic and Theatetus.[8] At the turn of the 18th-century, Immanuel Kant championed a revival of organicisitic thought by stressing, in his written works, “the inter-relatedness of the organism and its parts[,] and the circular causality” inherent to the inextricable entanglement of the greater whole.[2]

Organicism flourished for a period during the German Romanticism intellectual movement, where the position was considered by Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling to be an important principle in the burgeoning field of biological studies.[9] Within contemporary biology, organicism stresses the organization (particularly the self-organizing properties) rather than the composition (i.e. the reduction into biological components) of organisms. John Scott Haldane was the first modern biologist to use the term to expand his philosophical stance in 1917; other 20th-century academics and professionals—such as Theodor Adorno and Albert Dalcq—have followed in Haldane’s wake.[10][11]

French zoologist Yves Delage, in his seminal text L’Hérédité Et Les Grands Problèmes de la Biologie Générale, describes organicism thus:

[L]ife, the form of the body, the properties and characters of its diverse parts, as resulting from the reciprocal play or struggle of all its elements, cells, fibres, tissues, organs, which act the one on the other, modify one the other, allot among them each its place and part, and lead all together to the final result, giving thus the appearance of a consensus, or a pre-established harmony, where in reality there is nothing but the result of independent phenomena

One thought on “Organicism

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