Encyclopedia of Systems Biology

2013 Edition
| Editors: Werner Dubitzky, Olaf Wolkenhauer, Kwang-Hyun Cho, Hiroki Yokota

Preformation and Epigenesis

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-9863-7_931


The main alternative about development since the seventeenth century opposed preformism and epigeneticism. Given that to reproduce and to grow are properties definitive of living beings, the mysteries of organisms coming to life have ever been puzzling, and scientists like Aristotle, Descartes or Harvey or Leibniz suggested theories of development, which already can be ranged along this distinction (Smith 2006).

Preformism holds that the adult preexists within the first cell, so that development is a mere unfolding of this preformed germ. Elaborated about 1670–1700 by philosophers (Leibniz, Malebranche) and scientists who just discovered the use of the microscope (Swammerdam, Leeuwenhoek), this view denoted first the extreme idea that a whole individual is contained in the germ as a miniature, an idea later rejected by most thinkers for being too much theologically committed. Preformism of this kind is famously said to have been refuted by Wolff (Theorie der Generation,...

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  1. Müller G, Olsson L (2003) Epigenesis and epigenetics. In: Hall B, Olson W (eds) Keywords and concepts in evolutionary developmental biology. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp 114–123Google Scholar
  2. Sloan P (2002) Preforming the categories: eighteenth-century generation theory and the biological roots of Kant’s A priori. J Hist Phil 40(2):229–253Google Scholar
  3. Smith JEH (ed) (2006) The problem of animal generation in early modern philosoph. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge/New YorkGoogle Scholar

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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut d’Histoire et de Philosophie (IHPST), des Sciences et des Techniques Université Paris 1 Panthéon-SorbonneParisFrance