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Leber, Christoffer; Nickelsen, Kärin (2016): Wissenschaft im Glaubenskampf. Geschichte als Argument in den akademischen Festreden Emil DuBois-Reymonds (1818–1896). In: Berichte zur Wissenschaftsgeschichte, Vol. 39, No. 2: pp. 143-164
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Abstract

Among the protagonists of the "laboratory revolution" (Cunningham/Williams) in 19th-century physiology were the self-proclaimed 'organic physicists' ("organische Physiker"), who shared a mechanistic conception of life processes. One of their key figures was the physiologist Emil DuBois-Reymond (1818-1896) who not only excelled in the field of neuroscience but also became known, over the decades of his active career, as an orator at the Berlin Academy of Sciences and Humanities. In his academic speeches, DuBois-Reymond regularly commemorated heroes of the history of science. On closer inspection, these references went far beyond paying the usual homage to precursors: This paper argues that DuBois-Reymond made use of episodes from the history of science as a means to legitimate his own reductionist research programme and, at the same time, decry idealistic natural philosophy and vitalistic positions. Drawing upon biblical rhetorics, DuBois-Reymond systematically construed experimental physiology as the culmination of a teleological development, and, hence, organic physicists as the incarnation of scientific 'redeemers'. According to him, the success of 'organic physics' displayed the peak of an inevitable development.