The Cuvier-Geoffroy de Saint Hilaire Controversy

Elemente der Naturwissenschaft 111, 2019, P. 56-73 | DOI: 10.18756/edn.111.56


In the spring of 1830, a memorable debate took place in Paris between two scientists – colleagues and friends – on the question of which principles organize the living. It seemed to be a rather dry topic, yet crowds flocked to the public sessions of the Academy of Sciences, the newspapers pounced on it. It was intensely pursued across borders by Europe’s intellectuals, including Goethe, who clearly sided with Geoffroy de Saint Hilaire over Cuvier. In Goethe’s opinion, the future of science would depend on the outcome of this debate. The article pursues to understand this strong statement.

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