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Organism is a term from biology and medicine . It has several meanings and signifies

  1. a single living being
  2. the system of organs of a living being in its entirety
  3. generally a system, the individual parts of which work together in the metaphorical sense like "organs".


Biology and medicine

In the scientific language of biology, the term organism is initially used as a ' sortal term ' to designate living beings. In this meaning an organism is an individualized natural being, which shows the phenomena of life, especially metabolism, growth and reproduction. In addition, the term organism has a theoretical meaning: It then refers to an 'epistemic model' for explaining the phenomena of life. The focus of this model is the explanation of the life functions through the (decentralized) organization of the parts of an individual system.

In the broadest sense, “cells, organs, organ systems, complex electronic networks, animals, people, families, economic or political systems, cultures, nations” or institutions or historical developments are named as organisms .

Although unicellular organisms have no organs, they can be viewed as hierarchically structured, goal-oriented organisms. Hyphae or mycelial fungi, on the other hand, form a simple network. Viruses and viroids do not count as organisms because they neither have their own metabolism nor the ability to organize themselves.

According to Ludwig von Bertalanffy , a living organism is a step-by-step structure of open systems that, due to its systemic conditions, is self-sustaining in the change of components. The preservation of the components is only possible through their relationship to the whole.

Organisms in the broader sense

As a rule, organism and mechanism are viewed as pairs of opposites, whereby the organism is a complex, self-sustaining reproductive system , while the mechanism, on the other hand, is an artifact or simple (partial) system of an organism.

The term organism is generally used for systems that are to be characterized as holistic, hierarchical and targeted. Immanuel Kant believed that every part of an organism is always the means and the end of all others at the same time. Because, according to Aristotle, an organism is goal-oriented, i.e. determined by a purpose ( teleology ), the organism itself is more than the sum of its parts. One goal in the philosophical consideration of organisms is therefore the agreement of mechanical- causal and organic-teleological processes.

Concept history

"At the end of the 17th century it was GE Stahl first who used the term organism in a biological context." At this time, people began to conceive of ' life ' scientifically as a separate category of mode of being with its own regulatory principles. This view favored the emergence of biology and the life sciences .

At this time, the body of a living being was largely understood as a pure mechanism, following Descartes' separation of matter and spirit - with the difference that this natural mechanism, in contrast to the artificial one, was understood as an automaton that was completely functional down to the smallest limb Replaced defective parts independently. The term "organism" is understood by Stahl as a conceptual derivation and comparison to the "mechanism".

See also


  • Michael Ewers: Philosophy of the organism in a teleological and dialectical view. An idea history floor plan. Münster 1986.
  • Georg Toepfer: organism . In: Georg Toepfer (Hrsg.): Historical dictionary of biology. History and theory of basic biological concepts. Metzler, Stuttgart: Volume 2, pp. 777-842.
  • Wilhelm Weischedel (Hrsg.): Immanuel Kant : Critique of judgment . Work edition Volume X. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2005, here especially § 65 things, as natural purposes, are organized beings ( § 65 at )

Web links

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

Individual evidence

  1. Duden online: Organism
  2. See the entire paragraph: Toepfer, Georg 2013: Organism [Version 1.0]. In: Glossary of basic concepts of natural philosophy. [1] .
  3. ^ So Paul Watzlawick; Janet H. Beavin; Don D. Jackson: Human Communication: Forms, Disorders, Paradoxes. 12th, unchanged. Ed. - Huber, Bern [u. a.], 2011, p. 24.
  4. ^ Anton Hügli ; Poul Lübcke (Ed.): Philosophielexikon. Systhema-Verlag, Munich (CD-ROM) 1996: Organism.
  5. Georg Toepfer: Organism . In: Georg Toepfer (Hrsg.): Historical dictionary of biology. History and theory of basic biological concepts. Metzler, Stuttgart: Volume 2, pp. 777-842, here p. 777.
  6. ^ Theodor Ballauff : Organism I. (Biology), published in: Joachim Ritter and Karlfried Founder (Ed.): Historical Dictionary of Philosophy , Volume 6, Darmstadt 1984, pp. 1330-1336.
  7. See also: Georg Ernst Stahl: About the difference between organism and mechanism. Hall 1714; in: Bernward Josef Gottlieb (Hrsg.): Georg Ernst Stahl: About the manifold influence of emotions on the human body (Halle 1695) / About the importance of the synergic principle for medicine (Halle 1695) / About the difference between organism and mechanism (Hall 1714) / Considerations for a doctor's home visit (Hall 1703). Leipzig 1961 (= Sudhoff's classics of medicine. Volume 36).