Goethe and Steiner as Pioneers of Emergence

Elemente der Naturwissenschaft 104, 2016, P. 28-48 | DOI: 10.18756/edn.104.28


Powerful critiques such as Thomas Nagel’s Mind & Cosmos have revealed the fundamental inadequacy of reductionism. In response, a new paradigm of “emergence” has begun to emerge. However, this nascent paradigm lacks both a clear sense of its own genealogy and an adequate epistemology. Hence it is not surprising that a strong or “ontological” form of “emergence” has failed to overcome reductionist habits of thought. This paper suggests an alternative genealogy in the work of Hoffmeyer, Merleau-Ponty and Uexküll, and it argues that the missing epistemological foundations of a non-reductive science of living organisms can be found in Goethe’s scientific writings, especially as interpreted in Rudolf Steiner’s Grundlinien. This revised view opens up the prospect of an alternative account of evolution that might even be termed a “biology of freedom.”

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