Vitalism and Teleology in Kurt Goldstein’s Organismic Approach

  • Chiara E. Ferrario
  • Luigi Corsi
Part of the History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences book series (HPTL, volume 2)


In this chapter we focus on the relationship at the turn of the twentieth century between vitalistic theories and a special case of a holistic approach to biology, Kurt Goldstein’s organicism. We consider Goldstein’s biographical and historical background and present the research cases that lead him to formulate his ‘holistic-organismic’ approach to the study of the brain and the mind, which developed into an ambitious theory on the nature of biological knowledge. Goldstein’s organicism emerges as an antagonist to the aseptic and unsatisfactory framework of mechanistic biology. However, Goldstein’s organicism strives to keep apart from some members of its own ‘family’ of anti-mechanistic approaches. It is especially wary of the metaphysical commitments of vitalistic hypotheses, and seeks alternative conceptual routes to traditional problems in the biological sciences, like teleology and the organization of the living. Goldstein’s organicism will result in a rigorously materialist but non-reductionist epistemology of biology, which represents in his view the only feasible route to effective therapy. Goldstein’s efforts to solve the problem of teleology, while incomplete, ultimately reveals the richest dimension of his intellectual legacy, that of an ethical stance towards science and medical practice.


Anti-mechanism Aphasia Epistemology Holism Kurt Goldstein Medical ethics Neurology Organicism Philosophy of Biology Self-Realization Teleology Vitalism 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of History, Philosophy, Political Sciences and International Relations (HPPI)Victoria University of Wellington (VUW), NZWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.Philosophy, General PsychologyUniversity of PisaPisaItaly

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