Preformation and Epigenesis
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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