Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Hans Driesch Re-Visited after a Century: On "Leib Und Seele-Eine Untersuchung Uber das Psychophysische Grundproblem"

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Hans Driesch Re-Visited after a Century: On "Leib Und Seele-Eine Untersuchung Uber das Psychophysische Grundproblem"

Article excerpt


Long before Alan Turing laid the foundations of the ongoing artificial intelligence project with all its computer-scientific and philosophical consequences and side effects, (1) we can find in a short but intellectually dense booklet by the German biologist, bio- and-psycho-philosopher and philosopher of science, Hans Driesch, the following noteworthy remark: 'It is conceivable that once a great technician of the future might reproduce the internal state of a brain at one moment; according to our doctrine there would not be 'on the other side' any corresponding state of a conscious having'. (2) The ongoing philosophical disputes about the possibility or impossibility of 'strong artificial intelligence', with well-known participants such as John Searle and Roger Penrose, provides sufficient reason and motivation to look once again at what Hans Driesch had told us approximately a century ago. From his many books and essays I have chosen "Leib und Seele--Eine Untersuchung uber daspsychophysische Grundproblem" (1st:1916, 3rd:1923) for this review, (3) specifically because of that book's persistent relevance for the ongoing discourses in the philosophy of computing and AI. These contemporary AI-philosophical discourses are--at least in part--characterised by the occasional reemergence of naive mapping models for mental and mechanical 'states' which Driesch had convincingly refuted already two decades before the first Turing-equivalent freely programmable digital computers were electro-mechanically or fully electronically implemented--long before the linguist Searle came up with this famous 'Chinese Room' argument, (4) and long before mathematical physicists like Penrose attacked the position of 'strong' AI by means of an intellectual pincer manoeuvre with Godel's incompleteness theorems on the one flank and quantum physics on the other. (5)

Unlike the self-proclaimed anti-metaphysicists during Driesch's life-time (such as Nietzsche, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, members of the Viennese Circle, etc.), who all attempted to 'overcome' metaphysics (without being ultimately able to achieve that goal), Driesch did not shy away from metaphysics in a suitable, modern, science-compatible style. Metaphysics is classically, at least since Christian Wolff, (6) divided into two parts: general versus special metaphysics. General metaphysics (in its classical definition) deals with being-as-such insofar it is (i.e.: pure ontology), whereas special metaphysics deals with being insofar as it shows itself to particular realms of philosophical inquiry. (7) A list of examples of special metaphysics includes:

* Theoretical theology (Being insofar it is God),

* Transcendental logics and psycho-philosophy (Being insofar it is Think-Soul),

* Philosophy of nature (Being insofar it is Material Substance and Process),

* Philosophical anthropology (Being insofar it is Human),

* Theoretical biology (Being insofar it is Life), (8)

whereby all these special metaphysics are still 'abstract' and 'general' and 'philosophical' enough to distinguish themselves from the particular sciences (which have historically 'emerged' out of those metaphysics) dedicated to those topics: in the particular sciences the methods of inquiry are to a larger extent empirical (than in the purely rational metaphysics) and already take a number of basis concepts for granted (e.g.: 'life') which would still be in need of philosophical clarification in some special metaphysics which is conceptually positioned 'on top of' its corresponding particular science.

Having started as an empirical biologist by education, Driesch soon became a 'fully-fledged' philosopher and special metaphysicist, (9) with noteworthy contributions especially to the metaphysics of life (bio-philosophy) and the metaphysics of mind and soul (psycho-philosophy)--thereby always in full awareness of the latest empirical findings in the corresponding particular sciences: biology and psychology. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.