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As organicism or biological holism , when the whole is called the thesis that many biological questions can only be answered organism studied. The organism is thus confronted with a biological reductionism , which wants to reduce biological macro phenomena in general to biological micro phenomena. Ernst Mayrdescribes the organism as follows: “In summary, the organism can best be described as a double conviction: On the one hand, it is important to look at the organism as a whole. On the other hand, wholeness is not mysteriously closed to analysis, but should be studied on the correct level of analysis. ”This correct level of analysis is that of the causal dependencies between the parts or 'organs' of the object under consideration, which are understood as reciprocal in the organism.


The term was coined by William Emerson Ritter in 1919.

The organicism developed from the knowledge that neither the mechanistic- reductionistic view of physics nor the unverifiable hypotheses of vitalism are appropriate to the special properties of living beings .

The special organization of living beings (and thus of organisms ) is considered as a basic principle : They represent a complex, hierarchically structured system of elements that are interrelated in a variety of ways and thus produce properties that can no longer be explained by looking at the individual elements in isolation are. These new properties are called emergences . They result from the integration of elements into a new unit. This in turn is in a variety of interrelationships with other units, so that here, too, a further integration occurs on a further level, and so on.

The special properties of living beings are therefore not based on their material composition, but on their peculiar organization. The whole is more than the sum of its individual parts has become a handy formula for this.

Thus, all processes on the integration level of the molecules can be explained by physico - chemical laws, but these are becoming less and less important for the higher levels and are being replaced by other biological principles.

In modern biology, the genetic program plays a prominent role in explaining the differences to non-living systems: only living beings are largely controlled by a genetic program that has been acquired and further developed in the course of evolution .

In ecology , organicistic theories were dominant until the middle of the 20th century. Karl Friederichs and August Thienemann can be named as early representatives of organicism in German ecology . Synecological units apply here as wholes. Your parts, d. H. Species and groups of species are assigned a function for this whole, so that the parts are organs, i.e. 'tools' of the whole. It is assumed that organisms "are linked to one another by vital reciprocal relationships, in such a way that the organisms all contribute to the formation of 'organs' of the community." Each organ fulfills functions for the community without which they cannot exist could. Hence every individual is dependent on the community as a whole. Self-preservation is only possible because the individual, like all others, fulfills his special functions in the community. The synecological units are natural units. That means: They exist independently of the scientist; he cannot delimit them at will, but has to find them in nature. "The succession , d. H. the replacement of different combinations of species in time leads from poorly integrated pioneer societies to increasingly more integrated and finally organic units. During succession, the environment and species community mutually influence each other, in such a way that ultimately a climax condition is reached. In this one species community together with the redesigned by it [and thus also customized] Habitat stable, higher-level unit "At the opposite pole to these organizistisch-holistic concepts in ecology form a hand. Individualistic -reduktionistische theories: in this is understood by the individual : All species that have got there and have found suitable environmental conditions coexist in one area. Their existence is not tied to fulfilling functions for others or for a higher society. Ecosystem theories are not organicistic, but holistic in certain aspects .


  • William Emerson Ritter : The Unity of the Organism. Or, the Organizational Conception of Life. 2 volumes. Badger, Boston 1919.
  • Friedrich Alverdes : The holistic view in biology. Elsner, Berlin 1932 ( meeting reports of the Society for the Promotion of All Natural Sciences in Marburg 67, 3, ISSN  0370-8624 ).
  • Friedrich Alverdes: Organizism and Holism. Recent theoretical currents in biology . Der Biologe 1936/5 (4): pp. 121–128.
  • Armin Müller: Holistic Biology and Ethics. Borgmeyer, Breslau 1933 ( books of new biology and anthropology 10, ZDB -ID 988446-4 ).
  • Francesco Nardi: Organism and Shape. From the formative forces of the living. Oldenbourg, Munich et al. 1942 ( unit of knowledge ).
  • Ludwig Trepl : History of Ecology. From the 17th century to the present. Ten lectures. Athenaeum, Frankfurt am Main 1987, ISBN 3-610-04070-X , pp. 139-158 ( Athenaeum pocket books 4070).
  • Ludwig Trepl: Holism and reductionism in ecology: technical, political, and ideological implications. In: Capitalism, nature, socialism. CNS. 1994/5 (4), ISSN  1045-5752 , pp. 13-31.
  • Karen Gloy : Understanding Nature. Volume 2: The History of Holistic Thinking. Beck, Munich 1996, ISBN 3-406-38551-6 (licensed edition. Komet, Cologne 2005, ISBN 3-89836-511-5 ).
  • Ernst Mayr : The organicists. What is the meaning of life. In: Ernst Mayr: This is biology. The science of the living world. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA et al. 1997, ISBN 0-674-88468-X (German: This is biology. The science of life. Spectrum - Akademischer Verlag, Heidelberg et al. 2000, ISBN 3-8274-1015-0 ) .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Ernst Mayr: This Is Biology: The Science of the Living World , Belknap Press 1998, ISBN 0674884698
  2. Immanuel Kant : Critique of Judgment (1790). Work edition, vol. X. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt / M. 1996; Peter McLaughlin : What functions explain. Functional explanation and self-reproducing systems . Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2001; Kristian Köchy : Perspectives on the Organic. Biophilosophy between natural and scientific philosophy . Schöningh, Paderborn 2003.
  3. Karl Friederichs: Basics about the higher order life units and the ecological unit factor. - Die Naturwissenschaften, 15 (7): 153-157, 182-186, 1927; Karl Friederichs: From the essence of ecology. - Sudhoffs Archive for the History of Medicine and Natural Sciences, 27 (3): 277-285, 1934.
  4. August Thienemann: From the essence of ecology. - Biol. Gen., 15: 312-331, 1941.
  5. ^ Kirchhoff, Thomas & Voigt, Annette: Reconstruction of the history of synecology. Competing paradigms, transformations, cultural backgrounds. In: Kaasch, Michael & Kaasch, Joachim (ed.): Disciplingenese in the 20th century. Contributions to the 17th annual conference of the DGGTB in Jena 2008. Berlin, VWB-Verlag: 181–196: here 182, 2010.
  6. ^ Kirchhoff, Thomas & Voigt, Annette: Reconstruction of the history of synecology. Competing paradigms, transformations, cultural backgrounds. In: Kaasch, Michael & Kaasch, Joachim (ed.): Disciplingenese in the 20th century. Contributions to the 17th annual meeting of the DGGTB in Jena 2008. Berlin, VWB-Verlag: 181–196: here 183, 2010.
  7. Annette Voigt: Theories of synecological units - A contribution to the explanation of the ambiguity of the concept of ecosystems , dissertation, 2008, ; Ludwig Trepl: History of Ecology. From the 17th century to the present. Frankfurt a. M .: 280 p.1987: pp 139-158.