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Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. 2012 Mar;43(1):140-51. doi: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2011.05.013. Epub 2011 Jul 1.

How was teleology eliminated in early molecular biology?

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Program of Liberal Studies and Program in History and Philosophy of Science, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, IN 46556, USA.


This paper approaches the issue of the status of teleological reasoning in contemporary biology through a historical examination of events of the 1930s that surrounded Niels Bohr's efforts to introduce 'complementarity' into biological discussions. The paper examines responses of three theoretical physicists who engaged boundary questions between the biological and physical sciences in this period in response to Bohr-Ernst Pascual Jordan (1902-80), Erwin Schrödinger (1887-1961), and Max Delbrück (1906-81). It is claimed that none of these physicists sufficiently understood Bohr's 'critical' teleological arguments, which are traced to the lineage of Kant and Harald Høffding and their respective resolutions of the Antinomy of Teleological Judgment. The positions of these four historical actors are discussed in terms of Ernst Mayr's distinction of 'teleological,' 'teleomatic,' and 'teleonomic' explanations. A return to some of the views articulated by Bohr, and behind him, to Høffding and Kant, is claimed to provide a framework for reintroducing a 'critical' teleology into biological discussions.

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