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Disambig-dark.svg Some publications use the term biologism in the sense of biocentrism .

Biologism (formation of terms from biology with the suffix - ism ) describes the transfer of biological standards and terms to non-biological or not primarily biological conditions. This includes the one-sided or exclusive interpretation of these relationships on the basis of biological observation and explanatory patterns.

However, the term is not a biological technical term. Instead, it is a term used in cultural studies that includes a distancing assessment of the views that are assessed as “biologistic” and that should be labeled as one-sided, unrelated to the subject or exaggerated. It is therefore used in social and scientific debates in a derogatory way or as a fighting term and hardly as a self-designation for such world views . As a self-attribution, the advocates of such views often prefer the term naturalism instead .

Whether and to what extent a world view is “biological” is accordingly often disputed between supporters and opponents of such positions.

Term and usage

The term was in 1911 by the philosopher Heinrich Rickert introduced in the cultural studies discourse and is still used today, especially by certain explanatory models of sociology , cultural anthropology , history and jurisprudence to describe the late 19th and early 20th century, from Darwinism starting - but unlike Darwin himself or closer successors such as T. H. Huxley  - reinterpreted principles of biological evolution into general ethical or historical maxims.

One speaks of biologism when attempts are made to explain human phenomena and circumstances (such as individual or collective behavior , social conditions or political contexts) primarily or solely through biological facts, theories and models. The laws determined in biology are generalized as uniform laws of the real world and elevated to a kind of "world principle". Biologism is therefore also defined as biological reductionism , which traces all relevant social or cultural phenomena back to basic biological facts. Historically, biological approaches were brought to bear on the one hand through the transfer of biological concepts to the social and cultural sciences, and on the other hand through the expansion of biology to include the physical sciences. Well-known representatives of thought models classified as biologically classified are the zoologist Ernst Haeckel and the natural philosopher Adolf Meyer-Abich - the latter is one of the few representatives who himself described their theses as "biological".

Numerous social Darwinist and völkisch theories are strongly biologically determined. Within biology and medicine , biological perspectives were particularly influential in hereditary eugenics between 1900 and 1920. At that time, biologistic explanatory models and intervention concepts did not only exist in the bourgeois-academic milieu, where they were often associated with racist ideas, but they were also used by sections of the labor movement in addition to economic-materialist theories , for example to impoverish the proletariat with the help of the Explain the idea of ​​hereditary germ damage as a result of unfortunate social circumstances. Modern sociobiology can also take on one-sided biological traits if it not only seeks to fathom biological conditions as preconditions for sociocultural action, but disregards the independence and dynamism of sociocultural phenomena. Since the 1970s and 1980s, interpretations that are classified as biological, the tracing back of the more recent evolutionary biology to genetic and neurophysiological foundations has played an increasingly important role. Occasionally, however, general scientistic or natural-scientific- reductionistic views are assigned to biologism, for example the idea, also represented by parts of science, that the psychological can be explained exhaustively from biology and that psychological phenomena are based exclusively on this basis. Some critics also refer to the attempt to transfer certain behavior patterns in the animal kingdom to human societies or to relativize human morals and values ​​as biologism.


Because humans are part of living nature , their essence and behavior are also the subject of research in biology. Their findings are therefore understood as a contribution to the interdisciplinary research field of the human sciences . Critics of biologism do not deny that psychological and social phenomena are based on a biological background. With the term Biologism However attempts a sole explanatory to set demanding limits of biology, for example by epistemological criticism. At the same time, this defends the independence of a social and humanities methodology as well as an ethical discourse against biology. In addition, the critique is intended to emphasize the ideological, political and social consequences that can arise from an inadequately reflected, one-sided biological approach.

Biologism can be used politically if, for example, social differences are described as unchangeable and the problematic knowledge situation of the purely scientific observer is assumed. Because its scientific research is ultimately based on a - necessarily incomplete, only partial - observation of a certain social condition in a specific (temporal) context. This contradicts the fact that general, abstract laws should be derived on this basis , which can support a biological worldview. In addition, the used to methods and questions that may materially affect the outcome, time and culture -dependent, although for the research result on temporal validity is claimed. For these and other reasons, however, such a procedure is epistemologically problematic.

Social impact

Many political currents (including National Socialism and Fascism ) have instrumentalized biological explanatory models for their purposes, for example by using alleged or actual behavior among animals to justify social inequality , exploitation and murder . Discrimination is often accompanied by a way of reasoning that has three functions:

  • Distinction : The difference between the discriminating and the discriminated group is established by supposedly biologically given, i.e. innate, characteristics.
  • Immutability : This difference is asserted as innate and unchangeable, the possibility of a change in this regard is denied.
  • Justification : An actually given or asserted fact of nature is used to justify certain social relationships.

In this context, biologism is interpreted as a special variety of ontologization and essentialism . Derive the attempt within the Biologism from the ratios in nature ( "being") values for human society ( "ought") is, in the modern ethics primarily as a naturalistic fallacy ( naturalistic fallacy classified).

Appearances and examples

The following positions are mentioned as manifestations of biologism:

  • of Malthusianism with its special interpretation of population trends.
  • of Social Darwinism , which explains the Darwinian principle of natural selection in the "struggle for existence" for the motion and law of development of human society and life, the willingness to drive wars often is interpreted as immanent human trait; This also includes geopolitical approaches that interpret the relationships between states and peoples as a “struggle for living space” (see e.g. Karl Haushofer ).
  • modern sociobiology and evolutionary psychology , insofar as they explain psychological and social phenomena exclusively or predominantly on the basis of genetic factors.

Social explanatory models are also often referred to as biological, such as:

  • in the field of gender research by criticizing references to biological differences between the sexes. From these differences, supposedly indispensable socio-cultural consequences would be drawn, resulting in sexist interpretations.
  • racist ideas, typically in the form of the distinction between "higher" and "inferior" human races.
  • the teachings of classical comparative behavioral research , e.g. B. in the work of Konrad Lorenz and Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt , who often try to explain human behavior with the help of analogies from the animal kingdom.
  • in criminology the work of Cesare Lombroso , which regards criminal behavior exclusively as a result of heredity (criminal genes).
  • as an explanatory model for the egoism of humans, whereby this is derived through a direct analogy from the animal kingdom as an unalterable animal drive, without reflecting social factors.
  • the famous quote by the sociobiologist Richard Dawkins in his popular science book The Selfish Gene : He describes human organisms as "survival machines - robots blindly programmed to maintain the selfish molecules called genes". In the opinion of Uwe Pörksen , with this unidentified metaphor he wanted to reject the independence of morality and the human sphere as a whole.
  • the view of Edward O. Wilson in his Sociobiology that psychological phenomena or even ethical evaluations could (only) be explained in terms of the underlying biological mechanisms at the cell level.
  • Statements by the evolutionary biologist Ulrich Kutschera , who regards the humanities as mere "verbal sciences" which, in contrast to biology, would not produce any independent scientific achievement because they would not deal with "real existing things". Kutschera put it pointedly, addressing a study of the history of science : "Nothing in the humanities makes sense, except in the light of biology".

See also

  • Sociologism , a position that overestimates the influence of the social


  • Jost Herbig, Rainer Hohlfeld (ed.): The second creation, spirit and demon in the biology of the 20th century. Hanser, Munich and Vienna 1990, ISBN 3-446-15293-8
  • Detlev Franz: Biologism from above. The image of man in biology books. DISS, Duisburg 1993, ISBN 3-927388-38-6
  • Reinhard Mocek: Biology and Social Liberation. On the history of biologism and racial hygiene in the labor movement. Lang, Frankfurt / Main 2002, ISBN 3-631-38830-6 (Philosophy and History of Science, Studies and Sources, Volume 51) (Review [1] )
  • Steven Rose: Darwin's Dangerous Heirs. Biology beyond selfish genes. CH Beck, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-406-45907-2 (review [2] )
  • Immanuel Wallerstein, Imanuel Geiss, Gero Fischer, Maria Wölflingseder (eds.): Biologism, racism, nationalism. Right-wing ideologies on the rise. Promedia, Vienna 1995, ISBN 3-900478-97-X
  • Garland E. Allen: Biologism , in: Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism , Vol. 2, Argument-Verlag, Hamburg, 1995, Sp. 253-257.
  • Gunter Mann: Biologism. Preliminary stages and elements of medicine in National Socialism. In: Deutsches Ärzteblatt. Volume 85, 1988, pp. 1176-1182.

Web links

Wiktionary: Biologism  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. cf. M. Stier, S. Muders, M. Rüther, B. Schöne-Seifert (2013): Biologism Controversies. Ethical Implications for Psychiatry. Neurologist 84: 1165-1174. doi : 10.1007 / s00115-013-3736-5 , Eric Hilgendorf: Biologism in Law - yesterday and today - in: Ignacio Czeguhn, Eric Hilgendorf, Jürgen Weitzel (editor): Eugenics and Euthanasia 1850-1945: 161-174. doi : 10.5771 / 9783845218045-161
  2. a b c d Franz M. Wuketits : Biologism. Essay. In: ( Lexicon of Biology , Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, 1999).
  3. a b c d Mario Augusto Bunge: Emergence and Convergence. Qualitative Novelty and the Unity of Knowledge (Toronto Studies in Philosophy). University of Toronto Press, Toronto 2004, ISBN 978-0-8020-8860-4 , p. 154 .
  4. John Scott and Gordon Marshall: A Dictionary of Sociology . Oxford University Press , Oxford 2009, ISBN 978-0-19-953300-8 , p. 43, keyword: "biological reductionism (biologism)" .
  5. Ulrich Kutschera : The issue of evolution. Darwinism and Intelligent Design. 2nd edition, Lit Verlag, Berlin 2007, pp. 265–268.
  6. ^ Sören Niemann-Findeisen: Review of: Reinhard Mocek , Biology and Social Liberation. On the history of biologism and racial hygiene in the labor movement (= philosophy and history of the sciences, studies and sources, volume 51), Verlag Peter Lang, Frankfurt / Main 2002. In: Archive for Social History Online , February 2003.
  7. Thomas Anz : Biologismus und Kulturalismus In: rezensionsforum of July 7, 2001, accessed on July 6, 2017.
  8. a b Manfred Velden: Biologism - consequence of an illusion. V&R unipress, Göttingen 2005, pp. 7, 15 ff.
  9. So by Rainer Koltermann (1931–2009), Jesuit and zoologist, in a lecture at the Hanns Seidel Foundation on February 9, 2007 in Kloster Banz (conference report: Biologism - the new 'old' mindset? ( Memento from 27. March 2016 in the Internet Archive ) accessed July 5, 2017).
  10. Gunter Mann: Biologism. Preliminary stages and elements of medicine in National Socialism. 1988.
  11. ^ David Pepper: Modern Environmentalism: An Introduction . Routledge, London 1996, ISBN 0-415-05744-2 , p. 113 .
  12. Val Dusek: Sociobiology sanitized: Evolutionary psychology and gene selectionism . In: Science as Culture . 8, No. 2, 1999, pp. 129-169. doi : 10.1080 / 09505439909526539 .
  13. Deborah Cameron: Sex / Gender, Language and the New Biologism . In: Applied Linguistics. Volume 31, No. 2, 2010, pp. 173-192. doi : 10.1093 / applin / amp022 .
  14. Cf. Christine Zunke: Discrimination against women in society and their apparent scientific justification (PDF; 96 kB). In: Biologism - the new 'old' mindset? ( Memento from December 6, 2013 in the Internet Archive ), Hanns Seidel Foundation , 2007.
  15. Stephan Sting and Vladimir Wakounig (eds.): Education between standardization, exclusion and recognition of diversity. Lit Verlag, Vienna 2011, ISBN 978-3-643-50326-8 , pp. 87 f.
  16. Biological determinism and the neverending quest for gender differences. In: Psychology of Women Quarterly. Volume 31, No. 3, 2007, pp. 322-323. doi : 10.1111 / j.1471-6402.2007.00375_1.x .
  17. Manfred Velden: Biologism - consequence of an illusion . V&R unipress, Göttingen 2005, ISBN 3-89971-200-5 , p. 125 f.
  18. ^ Richard H. Jones: Reductionism: Analysis and the Fullness of Reality. Bucknell University Press, 2000, ISBN 0-8387-5439-2 , p. 194.
  19. Uwe Pörksen: Scientific language and language criticism: Studies on history and the present. Gunter Narr Verlag, 1994, ISBN 3-8233-4531-1 , pp. 131, 133.
  20. With reference to EO Wilson (Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. 1975, p. 575) Manfred Velden: Biologism - Follow a Illusion . V&R unipress GmbH, 2005, ISBN 3-89971-200-5 , p. 16.
  21. ^ Corinna Jung: Towards more confidence: about the roles of social scientists in participatory policy making. Poiesis & Praxis, Volume 6, No. 1-2, 2009, pp. 125-129, 125.