History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences

, Volume 36, Issue 3, pp 357–370 | Cite as

Alexei Sewertzoff and Adolf Naef: revising Haeckel’s biogenetic law

Original Paper


Ernst Haeckel formulated his biogenetic law, famously stating that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, in 1872. The Russian evolutionist Alexei Sewertzoff, and the Swiss-born zoologist Adolf Naef were among those who revised Haeckel’s law, thus changing the course of evolutionary theory and of developmental biology. Although Sewertzoff and Naef approached the problem in a similar way and formulated similar hypotheses at a purely descriptive level, their theoretical viewpoints were crucially different. While Sewertzoff laid the foundations for a Darwinian evolutionary morphology and is regarded as a forerunner of the modern synthesis, Naef was one of the most important figures in “idealistic morphology”, which is usually seen as a type of anti-Darwinism. Both Naef and Sewertzoff aimed to revise Haeckel’s biogenetic law and came to comparable conclusions at the empirical level. This paper is an attempt to explain how their fundamentally different theoretical backgrounds influenced their views on the relationship between ontogeny and phylogeny.


Biogenetic law Ernst Haeckel Alexei Sewertzoff Adolf Naef Idealistic morphology Evolutionary morphology 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Georgy S. Levit
    • 1
    • 2
  • Uwe Hossfeld
    • 1
    • 2
  • Lennart Olsson
    • 3
  1. 1.Arbeitsgruppe Biologiedidaktik, Biologisch-Pharmazeutische FakultätFriedrich-Schiller-Universität JenaJenaGermany
  2. 2.ITMO UniversitySt. PetersburgRussia
  3. 3.Institut für Spezielle Zoologie und Evolutionsbiologie mit Phyletischem MuseumFriedrich-Schiller-Universität JenaJenaGermany

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