Ernst Haeckel

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Haeckel, Ernst


Born Feb. 16, 1834, in Potsdam; died Aug. 9, 1919, in Jena. German biologist.

In 1861, Haeckel became a privatdocent in zoology and comparative anatomy at the University of Jena, and from 1862 to 1909 he was a professor there. He investigated Radiolaria (1862 and 1887), calcareous sponges (1872), and medusae (1879, 1880). Haeckel’s best-known works are those which developed and propagated evolutionary teachings and popularized the fundamentals of natural-science materialism; they include General Morphology (vols. 1-2, 1866), Natural History of Creation (1868), Gastraea Theory (1874-77), Anthropogeny, Or a History of Human Development (1874), and Systematic Philogeny (1894-96). In his work The Riddle of the Universe (1899), whose significance was noted by V. I. Lenin (see Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed. vol. 18, pp. 370-71), Haeckel defended the materialistic world view as against idealism and agnosticism. On the basis of C. Darwin’s theory on the origin of the species, Haeckel developed his teaching on the laws of the origin and development of organisms. He tried to trace the genealogical relationships among different groups of living beings (phylogeny) and represent these relationships in the form of a genealogical tree. Basing himself on the observations of embryologists, especially A. O. Kovalevskii, Haeckel formulated the gastraea theory, which states that multicellular animals arose from a hypothetical ancestor that resembled a two-layered embryo, a gastrula. According to Haeckel the key to understanding phylogeny is studying ontogeny, the development of the individual organism. Haeckel established the relationship between ontogeny and phylogeny, which had been noted by Darwin earlier, as the biogenetic law. Haeckel was inconsistent in his interpretation of the moving forces of evolution; he tried to join the principles of C. Darwin and J. B. Lamarck eclectically into one teaching and recognized both natural selection and the direct adaptation of organisms to environmental conditions by inheritance of acquired traits. The philosophical and sociopolitical views of Haeckel were also characterized by inconsistency.


In Russian translation:
Sovremennye znaniia o filogeneticheskom razvitii cheloveka. St. Petersburg, 1899.
Mirovozzrenie Darvina i Lamarka. St. Petersburg, 1909.
Bor’ba za evoliutsionnuiu ideiu. St. Petersburg, 1909.
Estestvennaia istoriia mirotvoreniia, vols. 1-2. St. Petersburg, 1914.
Proiskhozhdenie cheloveka. Petrograd, 1919.
Monizm. Gomel’, 1924.
Mirovye zagadki. Moscow, 1937.


Schmidt, H. Ernst Haeckel: Leben und Werke. Berlin, 1926.
May, W. Ernst Haeckel: Versuch einer Chronik seines Lebens und Wirkens. Leipzig, 1909.
Was wir Ernst Haeckel verdanken, vols. 1-2. Leipzig, 1914. (Contains a bibliography.)


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Many with an interest in how Darwinian thought came to be transplanted into a German context will be familiar with such English-language texts as Daniel Gasman's The Scientific Origins of National Socialism: Social Darwinism in Ernst Haeckel and the Monist League (New York: American Elsevier, 1971) and his Haeckel's Monism and the Birth of Fascist Ideology (New York: Peter Lang, 1997); Frederick Gregory's Scientific Materialism in Nineteenth Century Germany (Dordrecht: D.
Richards's magisterial work of rehabilitation, The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008) and the book under review, Gliboff's splendid and nuanced account of the origins of German Darwinism.
Bronn, Ernst Haeckel and the Origins of German Darwinism (Cambridge, MA, 2008) very useful.
Regarding these later developments one might again wish to refer to further influences, such as Karl Wilhelm von Nageli and Ernst Haeckel.
Some 5000 species of radiolarians are now known to inhabit the world's oceans and nineteenth-century German zoologist Ernst Haeckel made them his life's work, producing a classification system and a wealth of anatomical illustrations.
Wallace, Ernst Haeckel, Robert Hooke, Matthias Schleiden, Theodor Schwann, William Bateson, Stephen Jay Gould, and Richard Dawkins.
Within the fluidly baroque form of one small sculpture, a cast-plastic jellyfish inspired by the illustrations of nineteenth-century naturalist Ernst Haeckel appears to arise from or descend onto a miniature, hand-hewn wooden replica of a 1901 Art Nouveau music stand by Alexander-Louis-Marie Charpentier.
German morphologists (notably, Ernst Haeckel, Carl Gegenbaur, and Anton Dohrn) figure heavily in his account, and thus Bowler covers some of the same ground as Lynn Nyhart in her Biology Takes Form which also appeared in 1996.