Carl Vogt

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Carl Vogt
Signature Carl Vogt.PNG

August Christoph Carl Vogt (born July 5, 1817 in Gießen ; † May 5, 1895 in Plainpalais ) was a German-Swiss natural scientist and a democratic politician who, after his naturalization in Switzerland, worked as a reformer at the University of Geneva . In the materialism dispute Vogt was a representative of scientific materialism. As a staunch supporter of the theory of evolution , he is mentioned by name by Charles Darwin in the introduction to his book The Descent of Man and Sexual Selection .


Carl Vogt was the son of the liberal Gießen medicine professor Philipp Friedrich Wilhelm Vogt (1789–1861) and his wife Louise Follen, who had to emigrate to Switzerland in 1834, as well as a nephew of the fraternity members Adolf Ludwig Follen , Karl Follen and Paul Follen . From 1833 Vogt studied medicine at the Hessian Ludwig University in Gießen, a year later he switched to chemistry under Justus Liebig , who promoted him but rejected his materialism. Vogt was a member of the Giessen fraternity, which was officially prosecuted for its political tendencies. After their dissolution, he joined the resulting Corps Palatia Giessen . In 1835 he helped a fellow student to escape from the political police and also had to leave Germany. He went to his family in Bern and continued his medical studies, which he finished in 1839 with a dissertation on contributions to the anatomy of amphibians .

From 1839 to 1845 he conducted research with Louis Agassiz in Neuchâtel, then Prussia, on the anatomy and development of fish. In 1842 he discovered apoptosis , the programmed cell death, while investigating the development of the tadpoles of the common midwife toad . The importance of this discovery only became apparent in the second half of the 20th century. During this time he was already concerned with glaciology , in 1861 he took part in Georg Berna's expedition to the north , which led via Norway to Iceland and Jan Mayen . He studied at the Sorbonne in 1845 and then studied lower marine animals in Nice . During this time he was u. a. with the anarchists Michail Bakunin , Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Georg Herwegh .

In 1847, on the recommendation of Justus Liebig and Alexander von Humboldt, he was appointed to the newly established chair for zoology in Giessen. He joined the Sonderbund , a group of young professors, and the Democratic Association . Together with Moritz Carriere , a son-in-law of Liebig , he published the republican Freie Hessische Zeitung . In early 1848 he was for a short time commander of the civil guard with the rank of colonel.

In 1848 Vogt took part in the pre-parliament and was then a delegate in the Fifties Committee . From May 20, 1848 to June 18, 1849 he was a member of the Gießen National Assembly . There he belonged to the radical democratic faction Deutscher Hof and represented a decidedly Greater German position. In June 1849, as Foreign Minister, he was a member of the powerless and influential provisional imperial government set up by the rump parliament . From 1849 to 1850 he was also a member of the state estates of the Grand Duchy of Hesse .

Bust in front of the main university building in Plainpalais

Vogt had called for support for the Baden Revolution and the Palatinate Uprising . He committed high treason against the Grand Duchy of Hesse-Darmstadt in accordance with applicable law and was dismissed from civil service. After the crackdown on the imperial constitution campaign , he had to emigrate again to Bern, Switzerland, where he became professor of geology in 1852 and professor of zoology in Geneva in 1872 . In 1856 he was part of a delegation led by the Mayor of Geneva, James Fazy, which achieved the separation of Neuchâtel from Prussia. From 1870 he was instrumental in the reform of the academy founded by Johannes Calvin . From 1874 to 1876 he was the first rector of the university. After his naturalization in 1861, he was a member of the Grand Council of Geneva and the Swiss National Council . Geneva honors him with the Boulevard Carl-Vogt and a bust at the entrance to the university. He also became an honorary member of the Berlin Society for Anthropology, Ethnology and Prehistory in 1889 . In 1891 he became a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina .

Materialism, evolution, race and gender

In the materialism dispute , which reached a climax in 1854, Vogt was a spokesman for the materialists, while the idealists were mainly represented by the important anatomist Rudolf Wagner . For Vogt, psychological processes, the activity of the soul , are only functions of the brain substance ; thoughts, like the kidneys, produce urine. To accept an immortal soul who uses the brain like an instrument to work with is pure nonsense . Vogt claimed that food had a direct, material influence on people, their character and behavior: the clumsiness of the Teltow beet farmers should come from the ingested rutabaga atoms. After 1848 Vogt openly denied human freedom of will .

For Vogt, as Wagner stated in his reply to Vogt, there were only logical thinkers , the materialists, and all the others, stupid and nailed-up people . There was no place at Vogt for an insightful role for philosophy. Polemically, he devalued philosophy, especially metaphysics, and theology, even philosophizing naturalists as other accessories to the natural sciences: we only get here and there on the other, partly philosophical, partly ecclesiastical-religious accessories, with which even naturalists wanted to decorate their unstable structure can throw some glances. It doesn't really matter whether Schopenhauer places the difference between humans and apes in will, whereas Herr Bischoff in Munich (also a philosopher!) Places it in self-confidence.

This basic attitude was also evident in Vogt's support for theories of evolution. He polemicized against these when he still understood them as speculation in natural philosophy (1852): Stripped of the comical decoration that the natural philosophers ... knew how to give this theory, it nevertheless has a side that seems to us of great importance. It ... completely removes the power of a thinking personality, a creator that is accepted by many other naturalists. Vogt particularly emphasized this ideological consistency after the publication of Darwin's work on it (1863). Darwin behaved towards Vogt, similar to Ludwig Büchner , albeit very distant and was able to prevent Vogt of all people from translating Darwin's book Variation under Domestication into German , as intended .

Despite his initially skeptical attitude, Vogt had created and published a German translation of Robert Chambers ' anonymously published Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation in 1851, in which the idea of ​​evolution was popularized (1851). He explained in a note that both seem ridiculous to him : a Creator who intervenes 25 times until he finally hits the right one , and a Creator who retires after the world has been created.

Like Georg Forster , Vogt took the point of view that human-like apes developed several times independently of one another, from which different types of humans ultimately emerged (this thesis is called polygenism , i.e. the emergence of mankind from several origins, not from a single ape-human -Transitional form). Karl Ernst von Baer already warned (in the Russian journal Naturalist 1865) about the implicit consequences of this concept of polygenism.

Vogt's racist and sexist views also belong in this context ; Vogt argued "scientifically", namely anatomically. He regarded blacks as inferior, and the lowest black women; For Vogt, the two endpoints of humanity lay in the Negroes on the one hand and in the Germanic tribes on the other , a sum of the differences that is ultimately greater than that of the differences between two species of apes . Blacks , according to Vogt, are an irresistible reminder of the monkey: the short neck, the long, lean limbs, the distended pot belly - all of this makes the related monkey unmistakably shimmer through the human skin. The structure of the skull and brain, gaps between the teeth, the curvature of the spine, extremity bones, and the structure of the hand and foot ( indeed , according to Vogt, a decided flat foot ) showed the most decided inclination towards the animal type , the intellectual faculties of the black remain stationary and the individual, like the race as a whole become unable to advance . The black “race”, incapable of progress and higher cultural achievements in principle, would be located in evolutionary terms between the great apes and the highest standing people: Blacks do not know constant work , just as little foresight into the future; ... but otherwise one can boldly assert that the whole race has neither in the past nor in the present achieved anything which would have been necessary for the progress of the course of development of mankind or which would have been worth preserving. The innate imbeciles would mediate between blacks and great apes : one only needs to place the skulls of the chimpanzee, idiot and negro next to each other, as we are doing here, to show that the idiot allows himself to be assigned his place exactly between the two in every respect . Similar to children or lower races, women would preserve an evolutionarily older condition; the inequality of the sexes would therefore necessarily become greater the more advanced civilization was . According to Vogt, the structure of the brain and skull in particular show that the distance between the sexes in relation to the cranial cavity increases with the perfection of the race, so that the European towers far more than the European woman than the Negro does the Negress .

Quarrel with Karl Marx

After 1850 he came into conflict with the socialists around Karl Marx . In 1860 Marx accused him in his book Herr Vogt , a paid agent of Emperor Napoléon III. and partly responsible for the expulsion of Wilhelm Liebknecht from Switzerland in 1850. Vogt represented Francophile and anti-Prussian views, e. B. in studies on the situation in Europe 1859 or in the Political Letters 1870–1871. In gratitude he was appointed Grand Knight of the Legion of Honor . The French Republic also published files of the imperial administration in which a payment of 40,000 francs to a person Vogt is mentioned. However, it could not be clarified whether it was Carl Vogt.


  • Investigations into the evolutionary history of the midwife toad. (Alytes obstetricans). Jent and Gassman, Solothurn 1842, p. 130.
  • In the mountains and on the glaciers. 1843.
  • Textbook of geology and petrefactics. 1846.
  • Physiological letters. 1847; 2., verm. And verb. Edition 1854 ( digitized version )
  • The political tasks of the opposition in our time. 1849.
  • Zoological letters. 2 volumes. 1851. ( Digitized and full text in the German Text Archive Vol. 1, digitized and full text in the German Text Archive Vol. 2)
  • Studies on Animal States. 1851. ( digitized and full text in the German text archive )
  • Pictures from animal life. 1852. doi: 10.5962 / bhl.title.1729
  • Faith in coal and science. A pamphlet against the Hofrat Rudolph Wagner in Göttingen. 1855.
  • Studies on the current situation in Europe. 1859.
  • Old and new from animal and human life. 2 volumes. 1859.
  • Lectures on man, his position in creation and in the history of the earth. 1863.
  • North trip along the Norwegian coast to the North Cape , the islands of Jan Mayen and Iceland. 1863.
  • Physiology of Taste. 1865.
  • Political letters. 1870-1871.
  • The mammals in words and pictures. 1883.
  • Practical comparative anatomy textbook. 2 volumes. 1885 to 1895.
  • Out of my life. Memories and reviews. Stuttgart 1896, unfinished.


  • Edouard Desor : The ascent of the Jungfrauhorn by Agassiz and his companions. Jent and Gassmann, Solothurn 1842 (translation of L'ascension de la Jungfrau effectuée le 28 août 1841 par MM. Agassiz, Forbes, Du Chatelier et Desor, 1841).
  • Robert Chambers : Natural history of the creation of the universe, the earth and the organisms on it. Vieweg, Braunschweig 1851; 2nd, improved edition 1858 (translation of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation , 1844).
  • Brillat-Savarin : Physiology of taste or physiological instructions for the study of table pleasures 1865 (translation of La Physiologie du Goût, 1826 ).

See also


  • Andreas W. Daum , Science Popularization in the 19th Century. Civil culture, scientific education and the German public, 1848–1914 . Oldenbourg, Munich 1998, ISBN 3-486-56337-8 , 2nd, extended edition, Oldenbourg, Munich 2002, ISBN 978-3-486-56551-5 .
  • Kurt Bayertz, Walter Jaeschke, Myriam Gerhard (ed.): Weltanschauung, philosophy and natural science in the 19th century. The dispute over materialism. Volume 1. Meiner, Hamburg 2007, ISBN 3-7873-1777-5 .
  • Annette Wittkau-Horgby: Materialism. Habilitation thesis. University of Hanover 1997. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1998, ISBN 3-525-01375-2 .
  • Fredrick Gregory: Scientific Materialism in Nineteenth Century Germany. Springer, Berlin a. a. 1977, ISBN 90-277-0760-X .
  • Christian Jansen: Political dispute with hard lines. For communication by letter among the emigrated forty-eight - with special consideration of the controversy between Marx and Vogt . In: Jürgen Herres, Manfred Neuhaus (ed.): Political networks through letter communication. Brierfkultur of the political opposition movements in the 19th century . Akademie Verlag, Berlin 2002. ISBN 3-05-003688-5 , pp. 49-100.
  • Hermann Misteli: Carl Vogt. His development from the budding scientific materialist to the ideal politician of the Paulskirche (1817–1849). Gebr. Leemann, Zurich 1938.
  • Karl Marx : Mr. Vogt . London 1860.
  • Ernst Krause:  Vogt, Carl . In: Allgemeine Deutsche Biographie (ADB). Volume 40, Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1896, pp. 181-189.
  • Wilhelm Bölsche : Memory of Karl Vogt. In: Neue deutsche Rundschau, H. 6/1897, pp. 551-561
  • Article “ In a Geneva country house ” in: Die Gartenlaube , Vol. 1867 (Part 1), pp. 148–152.
  • Helge Dvorak: Biographical Lexicon of the German Burschenschaft. Volume I: Politicians. Volume 6: T-Z. Winter, Heidelberg 2005, ISBN 3-8253-5063-0 , pp. 156-159.
  • German monthly books, volume 3, p. 388 digitized
  • Wilhelm Boelsche . Correspondence with authors of the Freie Bühne. Edited by Gerd-Hermann Susen. Berlin: Weidler Buchverlag 2010 (letters and comments), pp. 269–294

Web links

Wikisource: Carl Vogt  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Carl Vogt  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Kösener corps lists 1910, 55/8
  2. ^ Member entry of Carl Vogt at the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina , accessed on June 18, 2016.
  3. C. Vogt: Physiological letters . Stuttgart 1847, p. 206
  4. C. Vogt: Studies on Animal States . Frankfurt / Main 1851.
  5. R. Wagner: About knowledge and belief . Göttingen 1854, p. 7; see. C. Vogt: Physiological letters . Stuttgart 1847.
  6. ^ C. Vogt: Lectures on people (6th lecture) Gießen 1863, 1st vol. P. 167. The polemics are directed against Arthur Schopenhauer and the physician Theodor von Bischoff .
  7. ^ Vogt: Bilder aus dem Thierleben , p. 366. - For the statements of Vogt see Franz Stuhlhofer : Charles Darwin - Weltreise zum Agnostizismus. 1988, pp. 110-133: "Admission of Darwinism in Germany".
  8. ^ Vogt: Vorlesungen über den Menschen , Vol. 2, p. 260.
  9. ^ Adrian Desmond, James Moore: Charles Darwin . 2nd edition Munich 1994, pp. 612-613
  10. ^ Vogt: Natural History ... (= Vestiges ...), 1851, in the note on p. 124 (in the 2nd edition 1858 on p. 138).
  11. Gerhard Heberer (ed.): Human descent theory. Progress in “anthropogeny” 1863–1964. Gustav Fischer, Stuttgart 1965, pp. 2–5.
  12. Lectures on Man . Giessen 1863, p. 216
  13. Lectures on Man . Giessen 1863, p. 218
  14. Lectures on Man . Giessen 1863, pp. 216-237, 242-243
  15. Lectures on Man . Giessen 1863, p. 243
  16. Lectures on Man . Giessen 1863, p. 251
  17. Lectures on Man . Giessen 1863, pp. 94-95