BIOLOGISM—a methodological-philosophical approach that prefers a biological point of view of reality; a tendency to reduce non-biological problems to biological problems or to biological structures and functions of psychological phenomena; in ordinary language—the cult of biology.
GENESIS AND TYPOLOGY OF BIOLOGISM. Nineteenth century scientism and the rapid development of the biological-medical sciences are at the sources of biologism. Biologism thus is based in particular on the accomplishments of the theory of genetics, biochemistry (e.g., the synthesis of protein), physiology, and recently bionics, which would pave the way for the eugenic improvement of man’s nature by directly influencing the nervous system, and thereby controlling the human psyche (eugenics). We may distinguish between radical biologism, which holds the absolute primacy of biology or “bios” and a corresponding procedure of reductions, and moderate biologism, where domination or reduction concerns only a certain aspect or is partial; this reduction is dependent on the acceptance of organismal conceptions in inorganic domains or upon the reduction of ontologically higher domains to the biological sphere. Panbiologism is a synthesis of both basic types of biologism.
BIOLOGISM IN PSYCHOLOGY. Radical biologism is based on the reduction of the structure or function of the human psyche to biological structures or the functions of the organism, to the ensemble of its subsystems, and primarily to the neurophysiological system that homeostatically directs the whole of the organism (cybernetics). Psychic (psychological) phenomena are explained as biological (in a less radical form in close connection with the biological, chiefly neurophysiological, foundation and behavioral manifestations); psychological problems and concepts (terms and their definitions), just as psychological theses, hypotheses, and theories are transformed into their biological counterparts. The methods of psychology are replaced by the methods of biology or adaptations of those methods. The main terms of traditional psychology, e.g., soul, mind, and will, are completely eliminated or are used with a different meaning. Biologism in its purest form is manifest especially in philosophical-psychological approaches based on naturalistic evolutionism.
H. Spencer was a precursor of radical biologism. He explained psychological and social phenomena, including religion and morality, by the law of evolution, and reduced those phenomena to functions that maintain the life of the individual and species. He also argued that the human mind is the highest stage in the organism’s process of adapting to the environment. Among other schools, pragmatism (W. James) and a variation, instrumentalism (J. Dewey) are connected with biologism. These theories regard human cognition as an instrument for the realization of biological needs; furthermore biologism occurs in psychological-epistemological approaches that hold a biological conception of cognition as a function of life (R. Avenarius). In emphasizing the role of empirical forms conditioned by biological factors, some emphasized in cognition that the dependence of its results on the structure of the sensory organs and the selectivity of impressions special to each species (G. Simmel). Some expounded on the bio-psychic conditionings of cognitive functions and their products (H. Vaihinger’s fictionism).
Biolism as appears in hormism (W. McDougall), which states that man’s psychic development consists in the actualization of innate instinctive drives (in adaptation to environmental stimuli); their impulses constitute a motivating energy for all human action, including action in the fields of science, culture, and religion. Psychoanalysis is also biologistic as it holds that biological mechanisms (instincts, drives) play an essential role in man, that these are the unconscious motives of conscious psychic processes and give direction to human behavior. As a result, the development of culture (in its sources and foundations) by various stages of sublimation is a product of the strength of drives. Behaviorism is also biologistic, especially the original behaviorism of J. B. Watson, who regarded man’s behavior merely as a result of a reaction to some stimulus, W. M. Bekhterev’s reflexology, and the more moderate behaviorism in I. P. Pavlov’s theory of conditioned reflexes.
In psychology today moderate and methodic biologism is common, which does not deny non-biological aspects, but merely abstracts from them, and neobiologism has a cybernetic and physical tendency (e.g., thought as a physical proceses—M. Mazur).
BIOLOGISM IN THE SOCIAL SCIENCES AND HUMANITIES. Cultural biologism appears in evolutionistic theories, which derive features of social life and culture from biological factors; the major representatives of these views are H. Spencer, L. H. Morgan, L. T. Hobhouse, L. F. Ward, and W. G. Summer, for whom society and its products are a part of nature; society developed in the course of evolution from social forms that exist in the world of animals, since biological laws (in connection with the laws of nature in general) also determine the course of social processes. In social biologism, various manifestations of social life are explained in biological terms of organism, inheritance, and the struggle for existence. Although society is generally not understood in purely mechanistic terms, they hold that it performs functions like those performed by biological organisms of a higher order. Since it is a higher form of development of the organism, it is subject to the same laws as all biological systems. Biologism was expressed in the conception of the state (the beginnings—Plato, Aristotle), which was treated as a kind of organism analogous to an animal organism in which all component elements act together for the common good (O. Gierke, J. K. Bluntschli). In the nineteenth and twentieth century theories developed, especially ethno-sociological and anthropological theories, according to which differences in biologically conditioned racial features are the basic factor that explains differences in the level of development among societies and civilizations. Biological features would be a form determining economic processes, the cultural creativity of particular races, and their political and social systems. These theories became the basis for certain political doctrines, e.g., national socialism in Germany.
In the second half of the nineteenth century biologism appeared in the form of a literary current and a theoretical-literary approach called naturalism (É. Zola, A. Dygasiński); in connection with this type of idea biologistic conceptions appeared in the sciences concerning literature and art—(1) doctrines explaining the phenomena of culture by biological models, which included the world of artifacts in the world of biofacts (models of the organism, the human body, periods of human life, the sequential stages of a flower’s development, etc.); (2) views that saw the world of culture as determined primarily by biological factors (evolution, race, gender, the construction of the human body, human generations, inheritance, crossing, natural selection). Behavioral and psychoanalytical approaches to the foundations of the humanities are close to biologism, as are certain naturalistic tendencies in the contemporary methodology of the humanities.
BIOLOGISM IN ETHICS AND THE PEDAGOGICAL SCIENCES is manifest in the reduction of the sphere of morality to the biological sphere. In fact, the autonomy of ethics is rejected, despite the assertion that in limiting themselves to biological approaches they defend the autonomy of ethics. In its extreme form, it sees in human nature the source of obligation, moral values, and educational values; it derives obligation from the laws of biological nature, to which it reduces moral evaluations and norms, and it applies terms or methods taken from biology in ethics and pedagogy. Moderate biologism states that the sphere of morality is described immanently (ex definitione) in the sphere of life. It holds that the sphere of ethos is a superstructure of bios. In holding the thesis that human nature is fundamentally good, biologism proclaims a cult of the body and physical education, while it opposes excessive rigorism, various forms of pessimism and moral Manicheism, and utopian perfectionism in pedagogical ethics; it has contributed to the unmasking of prudery and hypocrisy, which is not alien to an inauthentic conception of religious and political life.
In its classical form biologism appeared in the second half of the nineteenth century in the views of certain philosophizing natural scientists. It was then closely connected with evolutionism. Darwin, like Spencer, thought that morality comes from the development of social emotions connected with instinct among herd animals; then in man according to the measure of the development of herd life the social emotions were gradually refined and became in their manifestations more and more varied, even in a certain sense “rational and free”. As a result of evolution abstract moral concepts appeared that function in a more or less reflex manner; things arrived at the point where man’s individual needs were reconciled with the demands of the group. According to the evolutionists, the so-called moral laws genetically present the further development of instincts and mores proper to herd animals.
Biologism contributed to the appearance of various and sometimes opposed systems of social and pedagogical ethics. F. W. Nietzsche accepted certain radical assumptions when he contrasted the morality of masters and the morality of slaves, which ultimately took the form of amoralism. Racist ideology was a vulgarization of Nietzschean ethics. The biologistic attitude that was a component of social ethics was sometimes the cause of harsh racial conflicts (e.g., apartheid) and led consequently to euthanasia. Some systems of ethical biologism have a more humanistic character, e.g., according to J. M. Guyau, ethics should deal with the means whereby the end set forth by nature herself is achieved—the increase and development of life (anomia).
In pedagogical ethics, especially in pedagogy, biologism describes the role of innate biological factors, including instincts and drives, and regards social factors, especially cultural factors, as secondary. It reduces education to a process of natural development (E. Key, E. Claparede, S. Freud, A. Adler) and calls for a return to the state of nature. It objectives naturalistically the educational process and states that it is sufficient to listen to the voice of nature rather than interfere with education, except perhaps to remove obstacles that may arise. It raises biological needs and drives (hunger, procreation, love, and safety) almost to the rank of metaphysical values, and it emphasizes man’s right to satisfy them. It prefers a vitalistic conception of a healthy, pleasant life directed to egotistic needs. Thereby it leads to hedonism and consumerism and regards the perfection of personality as superfluous. Christian pedagogical ethics sees in biologism a threat to the basic postulates of personalism, although it recognizes that knowledge of the biological aspect is a necessary condition for effective pedagogical work.
BIOLOGISM IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF LIFE appears as an anthropological point of view of various types of philosophy, e.g., in Nietzsche’s philosophy it is emphasized that human desires and evaluations are an actualization of biological needs; for W. Dilthey life is an idea (a leading force), while events are an externalization of the internal development of the life of which man makes himself aware by “will” rather than reason; for L. Klages the universe is permeated with life and is an ordered cosmos in which the human mind, which is an acosmic power, disturbs harmony and order; for H. Bergson life as a fundamental feature of the world of nature is an expression of the powers of inner reality, a vital drive; the intellect, however, disposed to practical ends, does not know reality impartially; life in its metaphysical truth and depth is manifested and grasped in creative intuition.
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Zdzisław Chlewiński, Stanisław Majdański