Ecology and systematics: An archaeology of life science
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Some historians of biology, such as Lynn Nyhart, William Coleman, and Peter Bowler, have pointed out that a major reconfiguration of biology took place at the end of the nineteenth century. So far, however, it has remained largely unclear what this ‘new alignment’ consisted in and how it related to the major events of Darwin’s theory of evolution (1860) and the emergence of genetics (1900). This thesis clarifies the stakes and the dynamic of this epistemic shift, which, I argue, should be conceived as the demise of biology and the emergence of life science, i.e. the contemporary study of life. The key observation supporting this argument is that scientists such as Fritz Müller, Gottlieb Haberlandt, Wilhelm Roux, and Karl Möbius visibly deconstructed the basic dogmas and epistemic structure of biology which revolved around comparative anatomy and physiology, structure and function. Instead of biology, they – and no doubt others who are not discussed in this thesis – established an epistemic structure for studying life forms which was radically different. Life science would consist of ecology and systematics. Whereas ecology inquires into the preservation or ongoingness of life forms, seen as a nexus of process and part/whole relations, systematics considers the existence or occurrence of life forms, seen as a nexus of transitivity and ancestrality. It is argued, moreover, that the ever-returning problematization of the questions of evolution is a phenomenon inherent to life science. The gap left by the separation of ecology and systematics constitutes a domain of aporia which, however, is concomitant of life science itself.