Estonian-German, b: 8 September 1864, Keblas (Estland). d: 25 July 1944, Capri. Cat: Philosopher and methodologist of biology; zoologist. Ints: Animal behaviour; physiology; morphology; environment. Educ: Universities of Dorpat (Tartu) and Heidelberg. Infls: Literary influences: Kant, Goethe, Leibniz, Mendel and Cuvier. Personal: G. Kriszat and Hans Driesch. Appts: 1925-40, Honorary Professor and, from 1926, Director of the Institut für Umweltforschung, University of Hamburg.
Uexküll was primarily an anatomist, whose thinking was influenced by vitalism, by Cuvier's concept of 'anatomical type' and by Kant's transcendental philosophy. Although he held biology to be 'a purely natural science' (1930, 9), he nevertheless drew metaphysical conclusions and advanced a speculative theory of immaterial 'formal structure' (Bauplan) based on the pure relationships of geometry and stereometry.
Uexküll regarded life as irreducible to physico-chemical terms. According to him, every organism is a complex whole of interacting functions, whose nature may be inferred from its vital 'form' or 'stucture'. However, he stressed that the organism cannot be conceived in isolation from its environment (Umwelt). What constitutes the specific nature of an organism is the way in which, by virtue of its 'form', it receives stimuli from its world and transmutes them within itself. So every animal, including man, is perfectly fitted (eingepasst) to its environment.
Thus Uexküll repudiated the Darwinian idea of adaptation to environment: it is rather the 'form' of the animal which 'creates' the environment by its activity. This view presented an ingenious revision of the principles of biology by extending Kant's transcendentalism to animals. But its appeal to an immaterial vital 'form' as the key to biological science appears chimerical to the perspective of present-day biology. Uexküll's biological scheme greatly impressed Ernst Cassirer, who made use of it for a characterization of the human world (Cassirer 1944, p. 24).
Sources: Edwards; Brockhaus.
Turkish, b: 1901, Istanbul, d: 5 June 1973, Istanbul. Cat: Muslim eclectic philosopher. Ints: Islamic philosophy; ethics. Educ: Istanbul University, 1918-21. Infls: Jalal al-din Rumi, Spinoza and Max Scheler. Appts: Geography teacher in high school; Professor of Philosophy, Istanbul University, 1944-71.
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Publication information: Book title: Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Philosophers. Contributors: Stuart Brown - Editor, Diané Collinson - Editor, Robert Wilkinson - Editor. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 795.
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