Organisms as subjects: Jakob von Uexküll and Adolf Portmann on the autonomy of living beings and anthropological difference

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 44 (3):1-23 (2022)
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Abstract

This paper focuses on the links between Jakob von Uexküll’s theoretical biology and Adolf Portmann’s conception of organic life. Its main purpose is to show that Uexküll and Portmann not only share a view of the living being as an autonomous and holistically organized entity, but also base this view on the seminal idea of the subjectivity of the organism. In other words, the respective holistic principles securing the autonomy of the living being—the Bauplan, for Uexküll; the Innerlichkeit, for Portmann—share an essentially subjective character. Such principles, indeed, express themselves in a centrally directed and formative way; moreover, in organisms endowed with a central nervous system, they also extend their influence on the overt behavioral sphere and on the organism’s capacity to give meaning to the surrounding reality. The conclusion of the article will show how, though starting from this common background, the two authors develop divergent positions on the issue of the anthropological difference. If Portmann emphasizes the special status of the relationship between the human animal and the world, Uexküll tends to see a substantial continuity in the biosemiotic processes through which human and non-human animals constitute their species-specific worlds of experience.

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References found in this work

Ontogeny and Phylogeny.Stephen Jay Gould - 1978 - Philosophy of Science 45 (4):652-653.
Ontogeny and Phylogeny.Stephen J. Gould - 1979 - Science and Society 43 (1):104-106.

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