Cuvier and the Principle of the Conditions for Existence

John O. Reiss

in Not by Design

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780520258938
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520944404 | DOI:
Cuvier and the Principle of the Conditions for Existence

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This chapter focuses on Georges Cuvier and his principle of the conditions for existence. Cuvier was in every sense a child of the Enlightenment, and brought a critical, rational attitude to the understanding of organisms. His conservatism, combined with his broad appreciation of the philosophical issues involved, allowed him to find a solution to the problem of teleology, when so many before him had failed. The chapter begins with Cuvier's biographical background, moves on to his works in the context of Enlightenment science, and then discusses the enunciation of Cuvier's principle, reviewing its philosophical origins and significance. It also discusses the influence of Cuvier's principle in France and Germany. In particular, Cuvier's Kantian principle of the conditions for existence influenced German “teleomechanism,” Comte's positive philosophy, and Claude Bernard's foundation of experimental biology.

Keywords: George Cuvier; conditions for existence; teleology; France; Germany; teleomechanism; positive philosophy; experimental biology

Chapter.  18158 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Evolutionary Biology

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