|TRANSCENDENTAL ORIGINS, 1793–1860 35
gram: "Die Präformations-theorie widerspricht den Gesetzen der Na- turentwicklung" ("The theory of preformation contradicts the laws of nature's development"—1810, p. 28).
In Germany, a group of late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth- century biologists combined a progressivist view of nature with the romantic thought then current in philosophy and literature to produce the controversial school of Naturphilosophie. It is among the Naturphilosophen that recapitulation first became a central theory.
Although the origin of recapitulation among the Naturphilosophen has long been acknowledged, there has been much debate about its initiator. Many cite Goethe, others the historian Herder; most prefer Kielmeyer2 (1793), as did Meckel (1821) in the first attempt I know to establish a chronological list of recapitulation's supporters. Others, noting that Kielmeyer speaks only of physiology, identify Autenrieth (1797) as the first to apply recapitulation to morphology (Temkin, 1950). Kohlbrugge (1911) industriously catalogued 71 pre-Haeckelian supporters of recapitulation. Yet the entire inquiry is at worst futile, at best of antiquarian interest only.
Debates about the priority of ideas are usually among the most misdirected in the history of science. This is surely true here, for a fundamental reason: recapitulation was an inescapable consequence of a particular biological philosophy. Its spread among the Naturphilosophen bears no analogy to procreation (with extinction as a threatened consequence of early parental death), but rather to the invention of a simple machine whose parts are ubiquitous and whose use is obvious.
Naturphilosophie was the scientific incarnation of German romanticism. Gode von Aesch prescribed the following "comprehensive program of all romantic thought":
1. The establishment of a universal order of metaphysical, not just prag- matic, validity.
2. The determination of a place for man compatible with the faith in a human superiority of more than relative importance.
3. A substantiation of the belief in man's brotherhood and even identity with all of life and thus with all existence. (1941, p. 207)
The Naturphilosophen transcribed this program for biology. Most of their conclusions, including recapitulation, sprang from a small set of common assumptions. Most important among these were an uncompromising developmentalism and a belief in the unity of nature and its laws.