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2012 | 57 | 3-4 | 7-65

Article title

Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832). The Genetic Method and the French Aphorism. The 180th anniversary of the poet-naturalist’s death

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The present-day scientific issues (participation in a dispute between G. Cuvier and É. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire in 1830 in the form of a two-part article written on this topic - 1830, 1832) and also the editorial activities connected with the scientific field – such as, participation in the editing and publishing (1831) of a French translation of his former botanical study Versuch die Metamorphose der Pflanzen zu erklären (1790), which he recently provided with revised additional materials (the autobiography of the poet as a naturalist and the course of reception of the concept of metamorphosis) were matters which imported Goethe nearly until the last years of his life. It was in Versuch die Metamorphose der Pflanzen zu erklären where a detail previously absent from his natural writings appeared there for the first time, namely a French motto opening a part containing these additional materials: Voir venir les choses est le meilleur moyen de les expliquer. This only one sentence, maintained in the aphoristic form, whose author was, a little known at that time, French botanist and illustrator, Pierre-Jean-François Turpin (1775-1840), explains in the most concise way possible the very essence of the genetic method. This said method, widely practiced by Goethe in the natural studies from the early age, constituted an important component of his methodological set of instruments and gave a special expression to his way of understanding the world. The article analyses the German translation of Turpin’s aphorism, as made by Goethe, in which a certain teleological nuance was noticed, not existing in the original French version; as such, it remains in an apparent contradiction with the general and antiteleological scientific attitude of Goethe. The mentioned aphorism was compared in terms of accuracy to several translations into European languages. Furthermore, the question of Turpin’s aphorism being allegedly assigned to Aristotle was also taken into consideration. In the article, the proper genetic method based on textual evidences, drawn from Goethe's scientific works, was reconstructed and its extensive and varied applications familiar to the poet natural sciences. It was noted that the developed by Goethe genetic method (similarly as presenting it Turpin’s aphorism) had its origins in the same morphology, was used to solve specific epistemological problems of biology at that time, and was not the product of - contrary to what many historians of biology claim - influential in those days German Naturphilosophie. In the article, above all, however, a lot of attention was paid to the position which the genetic method occupied in morphology, interpreted by Goethe in a physiological and typological way. Particularly great importance was paid to it in the developed by Goethe theory of morphological type associated with a comparative method and introducing there the principle of continuity, to which he assigned a special theoretical and philosophical importance. Finally, the relations of the genetic method with contemporary typological morphology and the used here concept of homology were presented.








Physical description


  • Warszawa, Polska


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Publication order reference


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