The Methodology of Biology and Particularly of Ethology

  • Konrad Z. Lorenz


The goal of biologists is, as I have said, to make an organic system understandable as a whole. This does not mean that the biologist regards the entirety of a system as some kind of miracle. It is necessary to make this clear at the very beginning since there are some atomistic theoreticians who regard it as a confession of vitalism if one merely utters the words “whole” or “entirety.” The biologist does not believe in “whole-producing factors” that are neither in need of nor accessible to an explanation, but he remains aware that the systemic character of the organism excludes the utilization of some of the less sophisticated research methods. Above all, with regard to an organic system, one cannot track simple and unidirectional linkages between causes and effects. In his 1933 monograph, “Die Ganzheitsbetrachtung in der modernen Biologie,” Otto Koehler developed in detail the methods which are necessary in order to analyze a systemic entirety. In this publication he grants the Gestalt psychologists the credit they deserve for having perceived the nature of organic entireties, although he justifiably criticizes them where necessary in a way that can be summarized as follows: Every gestalt is an entirety, but not every entirety is a gestalt; in other words, the concept of gestalt must be reserved primarily for the processes of perception. Koehler also appropriately emphasized the fact that impassioned champions of the principles of entirety, such as B. H. Driesch (1928), alienated many researchers from the theory of entireties because they “dressed it in the vestments of vitalism.”


Behavior Pattern Motor Pattern Nest Material Captive Animal Behavior Sequence 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1981

Authors and Affiliations

  • Konrad Z. Lorenz
    • 1
  1. 1.ViennaAustria

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