The Constructive Work Of Driesch

What in Reinke's case came about almost unperceived, Driesch did with full

consciousness and intention, following the necessity laid upon him by his

own gradual personal development and by his consistent, tenacious

prosecution of the problem. The acuteness of his thinking, the

concentration of his endeavours through long years, his comprehensive

knowledge and mastery of the material, the deep logicalness and consistent

evolution of his "standpoints," and his philosophical and theoretical

grasp of the subject make him probably the most instructive type, indeed,

we may almost say, the very incarnation of the whole disputed question. In

1891 he published his "Mathematisch--mechanische Betrachtung

morphologischer Probleme der Biologie," the work in which he first touched

the depths of the problem. It is directed chiefly against the merely

"historical" methods in biology, used by the current schools in the form

of Darwinism. Darwinism and the Theory of Descent have been so far nothing

more than "galleries of ancestors," and the science ranged under their

banner is only descriptive, not explanatory. Instead of setting up

contingent theories we must form a "conception" of the internal necessity,

inherent in the substratum itself, in accordance with which the forms of

life have found expression--a necessity corresponding to that which

conditions the form-development of the crystal.

Experimental investigations and discoveries, and further reflection,

resulted, in 1892, in his "Entwicklungsmechanische Studien," and led him

to insist on the need for what the title of his next year's work calls

"Biologie als selbstaendige Grundwissenschaft." In this work two important

points are emphasised. The first is, that biology must certainly strive

after precision, but that this precision consists not in subordination to,

but in co-ordination with physics. Biology must rank side by side with

physics as an "independent fundamental science," and that in the form of

tectonic. And the second point is, that the teleological point of view

must take its place beside the causal. Only by recognising both can

biology become a complete science.

In the "Analytische Theorie der organischen Entwicklung" (1894) Driesch

picks up the thread where he dropped it in the book before, and spins it

farther, "traversing" his previous theoretical and experimental results.

In this work the author still strives to remain within the frame of the

tectonic and machine-theory, but the edges are already showing signs of

giving way. Life, he says, is a mechanism based upon a given structure (it

is however a machine which is constantly modifying and developing itself).

Ontogenesis(98) is a strictly causal nexus, but following "a natural law

the workings of which are entirely enigmatical" (with Wigand). Causality

fulfils itself through "liberations," that is to say, cause and effect are

not quantitatively equivalent; and all effect is, notwithstanding its

causal conditioning, something absolutely new and not to be calculated

from the cause, so that there can be no question of mechanism in the

strict sense. And the whole is directed by purpose.(99) The vital

processes compel us to admit that it seems "as if intelligence determined

quality and order." Driesch still tries to reconcile causes and purposes

as different "modes of regarding things," but this device he afterwards

abandons. We cannot penetrate to the nature of things either by the causal

or by the teleological method. But they are--as Kant maintained--two modes

of looking at things, both of which are postulates of our capacity for

knowing. Each must stand by itself, and neither can have its sequence

disturbed by the interpolation of pieces from the other. In the domain of

the causal there can be no teleological explanation, and conversely; one

might as well seek for an optical explanation of the synthesis of water;

but both are true in their own place. The Madonna della Sedia, looked at

microscopically, is a mass of blots, looked at macroscopically it is a

picture. And it "is" both of these.

Driesch's conclusions continue to advance, led steadily onwards by his

experimental studies. In the "Maschinentheorie des Lebens,"(100) he

attacks his own earlier theories with praiseworthy determination, and

remorselessly pursues them to the monstrous conclusions to which they

lead, and shows that they necessarily perish because of these. He had

previously declared, at first emphatically, later with hesitation (we have

already seen why), that every single vital process is of a

physico-chemical kind, on the basis of a given "structure" of living

beings. But now he considers the living organism as itself a result of

vital processes--that is, of development. If this also is to be explained

mechanically (as physico-chemical processes based on material structure),

then the ovum must possess in parvo this infinitely fine structure, by

virtue of which it fulfils its own physiological processes of maintenance,

and also becomes the efficient cause of the subsequent development. It

must bear the type of the individual and of the species, as a rudiment (or

primordium) within its own structure. Every specific type must, however,

according to the theory of descent, be derived through an endless process

of evolution, by gradual stages, from some primitive organism. Just as in

the mechanical becoming of the individual organism, so the primitive

protovum must also be extraordinarily intricate and complex in its

organisation if it is to give rise to all the processes of evolution and

development involved in the succeeding ontogenies, phylogenies,

regenerations, and so forth. This is a necessary conclusion if the

machine-theory be correct, and if we refuse to admit that vital phenomena

are governed by specific laws. This consequence is monstrous, and the

theory of the tectonists therefore false. But if it be false, what then?

Driesch answers this question in the books published in subsequent

years.(101) In these he attains his final standpoint, and makes it more

and more secure. The "machine-theory," and all others like it, are now

definitely abandoned. They represent the uncritical dogmatism of a

materialistic mode of thought, which binds all phenomena to substance, and

refuses to admit any immaterial or dynamic phenomena. The alleged initial

structure is nowhere to be found. The pursuit of things into the most

minute details leads to no indication of it. The chromatin, in which the

most important vital processes have their basis, is very far from having

this machine-like structure; it is homogeneous. The formation of the

skeleton, for instance, of a Plubeus larva is due to migratory

spontaneously moving cells (comparable to the leucocytes of our own body,

whose migrations and activities remind one much more of a social organism

than of a machine). The organism arises, not from mechanical, but from

"harmoniously-equipotential systems": that is to say, from systems every

element of which has equal functional efficiency; so that each individual

part bears within itself in an equal degree the potentiality of the

whole--an impossibility from the mechanical point of view.

Driesch had given an experimental basis for this theory at an earlier

stage, in his experiments on the initial stages of the development of

sea-urchins, starfishes, zoophytes, and the like. A Planarian worm cut

into pieces developed a new worm of smaller size from each part. A

mutilated Pluteus larva developed a new food-canal, and restored the whole

typical form. His experiment of 1892 went farther still, for he succeeded

in separating the first four segmentation-cells of the sea-urchin's egg;

and from each cell obtained a developing embryo. These facts, he

maintains, compel us to assume a mode of occurrence which is dynamically

sui generis, a "prospective tendency" which is a sub-concept in the

Aristotelian "Dynamis." And the essential difference between this kind of

operation and a mechanical operation is, that the same typical effect is

always reached, even if the whole normal causal nexus be disturbed. Even

when forced into circuitous paths the embryo advances towards the same

goal. Thus "vitalism," that is, the independence and autonomy of the vital

processes, is proved. The effect required is attained through "action at a

distance," a mode of happening which is specifically different from

anything to be found in the inorganic world, and which has its

directive, for instance, in the regeneration of lost parts, not in

anything corporeal or substantial, but in the end to be attained.

In his work on "Organic Regulations," Driesch collects from the most

diverse biological fields more and more astonishing proofs of the activity

of the living as contrasted with physico-chemical phenomena, and of the

marvellous power the organism has to "help itself" and to attain the

typical form and reach the end aimed at, even under the greatest diversity

in the chain of conditions. The material here brought forward is enormous,

and the author's grasp of it very remarkable; and not the least of the

merits of the book is, that the bewildering wealth and diversity of these

phenomena, which are usually presented to us as isolated and uncoordinated

instances, is here definitely systematised according to their

characteristic peculiarities, and from the point of view of the increasing

distinctness of the "autonomy" of the processes. The system begins with

the active regulatory functions of living matter in the chemistry of

metabolism (see particularly the phenomena of immunisation), and ascends

through different stages up to the regulations of regeneration. There

could be no more impressive way of showing how little life and its

"regulations" can be compared to the "self-regulations" of machines, or to

the restoring of typical states of equilibrium and of form in the physical

and chemical domain, to which the mechanists are fond of referring.

The facts thus empirically brought together are then linked together in a

theory, and considered epistemologically. We may leave out of account all

that is included in the treatment of modern idealism,

immanence-philosophy, and solipsism. All this does not arise directly out

of the vitalistic ideas, though the latter are fitted into an idealistic

framework. Extremely vivid is the excursus on respiration and

assimilation. (All processes of building up and breaking down take place

within the organism under conditions notoriously different from those

obtaining in the laboratory. It is radically impossible to speak of a

living "substance" according to the formula CxHyOz, which assimilates and

disassimilates itself [sibi].) Excellent, too, are Driesch's remarks on

materialistic elucidations of inheritance and morphogenesis. It is quite

impossible to succeed with epigenetic speculations on a material basis

(cf. Haacke). Weismann is so far right, he admits, from his

materialistic premisses when he starts with preformations. But his theory,

and all others of the kind, can do nothing more than make an infinitely

small photograph of the difficulty. They "explain" the processes of

form-development and the regeneration of animals and plants, by

constructing infinitely small animals and plants, which develop their form

and regenerate lost parts. And Driesch holds it to be impossible to

distribute a complicated tectonic among the elements of an equipotential

system. In denying the materialistic theory of development, Driesch again

determinedly "traverses" his own earlier views. He does this, too, when he

now rejects the reconciliation between causality and teleology as

different modes of looking at things. The teleological now seems to him

itself a factor playing a part in the chain of causes, and thus making it

teleological. The key-word of all is to him the "entelechy" of Aristotle.

In his last work on "The Soul," Driesch follows the impossibilities of the

mechanical theories from the domain of vital processes into that of

behaviour and voluntary actions.

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