Major Research Traditions in Twentieth-Century Evolutionary Biology: The Relations of Germany’s Darwinism with Them

  • Georgy S. Levit
  • Uwe Hoßfeld


Evolutionary theory has been likened to a “universal acid” (Daniel Dennett) that erodes its way into more and more areas of science. Yet, every single branch of biology has developed this context with its own specific characteristics, which, either through hindering or promoting, has affected the national scientific developments in evolutionary biology. We will argue that the Darwinian theories interacted with national research traditions such that the resulting conceptual body represented an amalgamation of a metatheoretical framework with the “purely empirical” theoretical beliefs such as the theory of natural selection. We will demonstrate this using the example of the German research tradition in evolutionary biology. We will analyse this German tradition comparing it to other major traditions in evolutionary biology such as the English- and Russian-speaking evolutionism. The problem of specific influences constituting the German, English-language (Great Britain and the USA), and Russian-language context of the first and the second Darwinian revolutions will be addressed. In addition, we will introduce a concept of “metaparadigm” reflecting the specificity of German evolutionary theory at the time of the first and the second Darwinian Revolutions.


National research traditions in evolutionary biology German evolutionary biology Metaparadigms Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Ernst Haeckel Adolf Naef Hans Böker Bernhard Rensch 



This chapter has benefited from the editorial corrections and comments made by Dr. Ian Stewart, University of King’s College, Halifax, Canada.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Humanities and Social SciencesITMO UniversitySt. PetersburgRussia
  2. 2.Biology Education Research GroupJena UniversityJenaGermany

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