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The Gestation of German BiologyPhilosophy and Physiology from Stahl to Schelling$
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John H. Zammito

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226520797

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226520827.001.0001

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Blumenbach, Kant, and the “Daring Adventure” of an “Archaeology of Nature”

Blumenbach, Kant, and the “Daring Adventure” of an “Archaeology of Nature”

(p.215) Chapter Eight Blumenbach, Kant, and the “Daring Adventure” of an “Archaeology of Nature”
The Gestation of German Biology

John H. Zammito

University of Chicago Press

Blumenbach’s research in the 1780s and 90s concentrated on the historicization of nature, particularly the question of paleontology. He embraced the idea of mass extinctions based on a “catastrophist” theory of earth’s history. Much of this derived from his engagement with the ideas of the Genevan Diluvian geologist Deluc as well as the indigenous geognosy of Werner. Blumenbach was among the pioneers in using fossil stratification to reconstruct the “epochs” of the history of life forms. While Blumenbach plunged into the historicization of nature, Kant, its earliest German advocate, pulled back sharply, calling this “archaeology of nature” a “daring adventure of reason” that risked stepping beyond human limits. This retreat, culminating in his third Critique, emerged in his controversies with Herder and Forster over natural history. Notwithstanding the influential Lenoir thesis about their common agenda of “teleomechanism,” the relation between Kant and Blumenbach was in fact as much a matter of misunderstanding as of affiliation. Girtanner made the most energetic effort to fuse Kant and Blumenbach, but the “Göttingen School” launched by Blumenbach should be associated with the turn to paleontology and “transformism” evidenced in his key students, Link, Humboldt, and especially Treviranus.

Keywords:   Blumenbach, paleontology, Jean André Deluc, Abraham Gottlob Werner, catastrophism, Kant, archaeology of nature, daring adventure of reason, Christoph Girtanner, Gottfried Treviranus

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