Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 37–66 | Cite as

Toward a Pragmatist Epistemology: Arthur O. Lovejoy’s and H. S. Jennings’s Biophilosophical Responses to Neovitalism, 1909–1914

  • Doug Russell


The sustained interdisciplinary debate about neovitalism between two Johns Hopkins University colleagues, philosopher Arthur O. Lovejoy and experimental geneticist H. S. Jennings, in the period 1911–1914, was the basis for their theoretical reconceptualization of scientific knowledge as contingent and necessarily incomplete in its account of nature. Their response to Hans Driesch’s neovitalist concept of entelechy, and his challenge to the continuity between biology and the inorganic sciences, resulted in a historically significant articulation of genetics and philosophy. This study traces the debate’s shift of problem-focus away from neovitalism’s threat to the unity of science – “organic autonomy,” as Lovejoy put it – and toward the potential for development of a nonmechanististic, nonrationalist theory of scientific knowledge. The result was a new pragmatist epistemology, based on Lovejoy’s and Jennings’s critiques of the inadequacy of pragmatism’s account of scientific knowledge. The first intellectual move, drawing on naturalism and pragmatism, was based on a reinterpretation of science as organized experience. The second, sparked by Henri Bergson’s theory of creative evolution, and drawing together elements of Dewey’s and James’s pragmatisms, produced a new account of the contingency and necessary incompleteness of scientific knowledge. Prompted by the neovitalists’ mix of a priori concepts and, in Driesch’s case, and adherence to empiricism, Lovejoy’s and Jennings’s developing pragmatist epistemologies of science explored the interrelation between rationalism and empiricism.


Bergson, H Biophilosophy Contingency Driesch, H Epistemology  Jennings, H. S Lovejoy, A. O Neovitalism Pragmatism 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Allen, Garland E. 1978. Life Science in the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, Garland E. 2008. “Rebel with Two Causes: Hans Driesch.” Oren Solomon Harman and Michael R. Dietrich (eds), Rebels, Mavericks, and Heretics in Biology. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, pp. 37–64.Google Scholar
  3. Bergson, Henri. 1911. Creative Evolution, Trans. A. Mitchell. New York: Henry Holt and Company.Google Scholar
  4. Campbell, James. 2003. “Arthur Lovejoy and the Progress of Philosophy.” Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 39(4): 617–643.Google Scholar
  5. Davenport, Charles B. 1922. “Address on Dr. Herbert S. Jennings' Research.” The Johns Hopkins Alumni Magazine 10(2): 87–92.Google Scholar
  6. Dewey, John. 1909. “Objects, Data, and Existences: A Reply to Professor McGilvary.” The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 6(1): 13–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Driesch, Hans. 1908. The Science and Philosophy of the Organism, 2 Vols. London: Adam and Charles Black.Google Scholar
  8. Garrett, Brian. 2013. “Vitalism Versus Emergent Materialism.” Sebastian Normandin and Charles T. Wolfe (eds.), Vitalism and the Scientific Image in Post-Enlightenment Life Science, 1800–2010. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 127–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Jennings, H.S. 1911. “Vitalism and Experimental Investigation.” Science 33: 927–932.Google Scholar
  10. Jennings, H.S. 1912. “Driesch’s Vitalism and Experimental Indeterminism.” Science 36: 434–435.Google Scholar
  11. Jennings, H.S. 1913a. “Review of Modern Science and the Illusions of Professor Bergson, by Hugh S. R. Elliot.” The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 10(13): 353–358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Jennings, H.S. 1913b. “Doctrines Held as Vitalism.” The American Naturalist 47: 385–417.Google Scholar
  13. Jennings, H.S. 1914a. “Life and Matter: From the Standpoint of Radically Experimental Analysis.” The Johns Hopkins University Circular 10: 3–20.Google Scholar
  14. Jennings, H.S. 1914b. “Development and Inheritance in Relation to the Constitution of the Germ.” The Johns Hopkins University Circular 10: 21–72.Google Scholar
  15. Jennings, H.S. 1918. “Mechanism and Vitalism.” Philosophical Review 270(6): 577–596.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kingsland, Sharon. 1987. “A Man Out of Place: Herbert Spencer Jennings at Johns Hopkins, 1906–1938.” American Zoologist 27(3): 807–817.Google Scholar
  17. Lovejoy, Arthur O. 1904. “Some Eighteenth-Century Evolutionists.” The Popular Science Monthly 65(238–251): 323–340.Google Scholar
  18. Lovejoy, Arthur O. 1908a. “The Thirteen Pragmatisms. I.” The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 5(1): 5–12.Google Scholar
  19. Lovejoy, Arthur O. 1908b. “The Thirteen Pragmatisms. II.” The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology and Scientific Methods 5(2): 29–39.Google Scholar
  20. Lovejoy, Arthur O. 1909a. “The Argument for Organic Evolution Before ‘The Origin of Species’.” The Popular Science Monthly 75(5): 499–514.Google Scholar
  21. Lovejoy, Arthur O. 1909b. “The Metaphysician of the Life-Force.” The Nation 89 (30 Sep. 1909): 298–301.Google Scholar
  22. Lovejoy, Arthur O. 1909c. “Review of The Science and Philosophy of the Organism, by Hans Driesch. Science 30: 761–766.Google Scholar
  23. Lovejoy, Arthur O. 1910. “Kant and Evolution. I.” The Popular Science Monthly 77: 538–553.Google Scholar
  24. Lovejoy, Arthur O. 1911a. “Buffon and the Problem of Species.” The Popular Science Monthly 79(464–473): 554–567.Google Scholar
  25. Lovejoy, Arthur O. 1911b. “The Import of Vitalism.” Science 34: 75–80.Google Scholar
  26. Lovejoy, Arthur O. 1911c. “Kant and Evolution. II.” The Popular Science Monthly 78: 36–51.Google Scholar
  27. Lovejoy, Arthur O. 1911d. “The Meaning of Vitalism.” Science 33: 610–614.Google Scholar
  28. Lovejoy, Arthur O. 1912a. “The Meaning of Driesch and the Meaning of Vitalism.” Science 36: 672–675.Google Scholar
  29. Lovejoy, Arthur O. 1912b. “The Unity of Science.” The University of Missouri Bulletin, Science Series 1(1): 1–34.Google Scholar
  30. Lovejoy, Arthur O. 1913. “Bergson and Romantic Evolutionism.” University of California Chronicle 15(4): 429–487.Google Scholar
  31. Lovejoy, Arthur O. 1922. “Address at the Presentation of a Portrait of Professor H. S. Jennings.” The Johns Hopkins Alumni Magazine 10(2): 81–86.Google Scholar
  32. Morgan, C. Lloyd. 1905. The Interpretation of Nature. Bristol: JW Arrowsmith; London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd.Google Scholar
  33. Normandin, Sebastian and Wolfe, Charles T. 2013. “Vitalism and the Scientific Image: An Introduction.” S. Normandin and C.T. Wolfe (eds.), Vitalism and the Scientific Image in Post-Enlightenment Life Science, 18002010. Dordrecht: Springer, pp. 1–15.Google Scholar
  34. Ritter, William E. 1911. “The Controversy Between Materialism and Vitalism: Can It be Ended?.” Science 33: 437–441.Google Scholar
  35. Schloegel, Judith Johns. 2006. Intimate Biology: Herbert Spencer Jennings, Tracy Sonneborn, and the Career of American Protozoan Genetics. Dissertation, Indiana University.Google Scholar
  36. Schloegel, Judith Johns. 2008. “Jennings, Herbert Spencer.” Noretta Koertge (ed.), New Dictionary of Scientific Biography, 4 Vols. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons-Thomson Gale, pp. 43–46.Google Scholar
  37. Sonneborn, T.M. 1975. “Herbert Spencer Jennings: April 8, 1868–April 14, 1947.” Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences 47: 143–223.Google Scholar
  38. Vicedo, Marga. 1999. “The Laws of Inheritance and the Rules of Morality: Early Geneticists on Evolution and Ethics.” Jane Maienschein and Michael Ruse (eds.), Biology and the Foundation of Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 225–256.Google Scholar
  39. Wilson, Daniel J. 1980. Arthur O. Lovejoy and the Quest for Intelligibility. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mount HawthornAustralia

Personalised recommendations