Lorenz Oken

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Oken, Lorenz


(pen name of Lorenz Ockenfuss). Born Aug. 1, 1779, in Bohlsbach, Baden; died Aug. 11, 1851, in Zürich. German naturalist and natural philosopher. A student and follower of F. W. von Schelling.

Oken was a professor in Jena (1807–19), Munich (1828–32), and Zürich. He also served as first rector of the University of Zürich (1833). Oken edited the journal Isis, oder Encyclopädische Zeitung (vols. 1–41, 1817–48). In 1822 he founded the Society of German Naturalists and Physicians.

An adherent of Schelling’s natural philosophy, Oken regarded the diversity of living organisms as the result of the development and transformation of a certain ideal creative primary element. According to Oken, each stage in the development of organic forms embodies a predetermined ideal primary form. In addition to these improbable notions, Oken’s works contained penetrating conjectures that anticipated scientific discoveries of a later time: the idea that a living thing is made up of discrete parts (later elaborated in cell theory) and the idea that carbon is the basis of living matter.

Oken’s belief that the cephalic bones correspond to vertebrae was defended by Goethe (“vertebral theory”); it was later revived in the theory of the metamerism of the heads of vertebrates (see the collection Annals of Biology, vol. 1, Moscow, 1959, pp. 155–264). At the beginning of the 19th century, Oken exerted considerable influence on Russian followers of Schelling (see P. Sakulin, From the History of Russian Idealism, vol. 1, part 1, Moscow, 1913, chapter 2).


Gesammelte Schriften. Berlin, 1939.
In Russian translation:
Obozrenie glavnykh soderzhanii filosofskogo estestvoznaniia. St. Petersburg, 1815.
O svete i teplote, kak izvestnykh sostoianiiakh vsemirnogo elementa. St. Petersburg, 1816.
Vseobshchaia estestvennaia istoriia dlia vsekh sostoianii, vol. 5.[St. Petersburg, 1836.]


Raikov, B. E. Germanskie biologi-evoliutsionisty do Darvina. Leningrad, 1969. Pages 9–159.
Ecker, A. L Oken. Stuttgart, 1880.
Schuster, J. Oken: Der Mann und sein Werk. Berlin, 1922.
Pfannenstiel, M. L. Oken: Sein Leben und Wirken. Freiburg im Breisgau, 1953.
Bräuning-Oktavio, H. Oken und Goethe im Lichte neuer Quellen. Weimar, 1959.