Rupik (2021)

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Rupik, Gregory. (2021) Ateleological Propagation in Goethe’s Metamorphosis of Plants. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 43, 32.

Title Ateleological Propagation in Goethe’s Metamorphosis of Plants
Resource Type journal article
Author(s) Gregory Rupik
Year 2021
Journal History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Volume 43
Pages 32


It was commonly accepted in Goethe’s time that plants were equipped both to propagate themselves and to play a certain role in the natural economy as a result of God’s beneficent and providential design. Goethe’s identification of sexual propagation as the “summit of nature” in The Metamorphosis of Plants (1790) might suggest that he, too, drew strongly from this theological-metaphysical tradition that had given rise to Christian Wolff’s science of teleology. Goethe, however, portrayed nature as inherently active and propagative, itself improvising into the future by multiple means, with no extrinsically pre-ordained goal or fixed end-point. Rooted in the nature philosophy of his friend and mentor Herder, Goethe’s plants exhibit their own historically and environmentally conditioned drives and directionality in The Metamorphosis of Plants. In this paper I argue that conceiving of nature as active productivity—not merely a passive product—freed Goethe of the need to tie plants’ forms and functions to a divine system of ends, and allowed him to consider possibilities for plants, and for nature, beyond the walls of teleology.