Driesch, Hans, 1867-1941

The developmental biologist and ardent vitalist Hans Driesch was born on October 28, 1867, in Bad Kreuznach, Germany. After studying zoology at Freiburg and Munich, he received his doctorate at Jena in 1889 for work under Ernst Haeckel on coelenterates. Through a series of major monographs including Die Biologie als Selbständige Grundwissenschaft (1893), Analytische Theorie der Organischen Entwicklung (1894), Die Seele als Elementare Naturfaktor (1903), and History and Theory of Vitalism (1905), Driesch developed a unqiue "biotheoretical" approach to organismal study, incorporating mathematical analysis of organismal structures in a strongly teleological vitalist framework that he called entelechy. He remained an antimaterialist throughout his career.

Between 1891 and 1900, Driesch worked at the International Zoological Station in Naples, Italy, where he met performed a renowned series of experiments on sea urchin embryos that conclusively demonstrated that the fate of a cell is not determined in the early developmental stages and, in 1896, he became the first to demonstrate embryonic induction. At Naples he also met Thomas Hunt Morgan, the young American embryologist and soon to be geneticist, with whom he maintained a long correspondence. After serving as the Gifford lecturer at Aberdeen in 1907-1908, Driesch was appointed professor of philosophy at Heidelberg (1911-20), and subsequently at Cologne and Leipzig. His pacifism and philosophical beliefs made him anathema to the Nazi regime, however, and he was forced to retire in 1933. He died in Leipzig on April 16, 1941.


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