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  • Johannes Müller und die Philosophie
  • K. Codell Carter
Michael Hagner and Bettina Wahrig-Schmidt, eds. Johannes Müller und die Philosophie. Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1992. 341 pp. DM 88.00.

The great nineteenth-century physiologist Johannes Müller (1801–58) made important contributions in a range of subjects but especially in the study of the nervous system and in the psychology and physiology of perception. Further, he trained other prominent medical scientists who carried out research related to his own, so that his scientific influence, direct and indirect, was profound. There are also philosophical dimensions to Müller’s work. He began his career heavily involved with the murky and speculative system of ideas known as Naturphilosophie; persons associated with this movement debated whether life has its own characteristic processes, or whether all organic phenomena can be explained by the laws of ordinary physics and chemistry. Müller discovered what is sometimes called the Law of Specific Nerve Energies, according to which each sensory nerve, however stimulated, produces only its own characteristic sensation; this law has epistemological ramifications. Because of its historical impact and of its philosophical connections, Müller’s research is worthy of more attention than it has received.

The current work is a collection of sixteen essays on Müller and philosophy. The essays, initially presented in a 1990 symposium at the University of Lübeck, deal with a range of questions that fall into four groups: (1) to what extent was Müller influenced by philosophical predecessors such as Aristotle, Spinoza, Kant, or Hegel? (2) to what extent, if at all, did Müller emancipate himself from Naturphilosophie? (3) what were Müller’s philosophical views? what was his methodology? how did he see the relation between philosophy and science? and (4) to what extent did Müller influence subsequent philosophers such as Ernst Haeckel or Ernst Mach, or philosophical movements such as positivism, idealism, or materialism? The main essays are contrasted and compared in a short discussion, and the book concludes with a reflective essay by Peter McLaughlin on the necessity for physiologists to regard nature philosophically. The book also contains an introduction, an extensive and useful bibliography, biographical notes about the authors, and a name index (unfortunately, no subject index).

The contributors to this volume represent different disciplines and different countries. The usefulness of such a collection is often compromised by the diversity of points of view. However, these essays are coherent and complementary; together, they constitute an excellent introduction to the topic. This collection is a real asset for those interested in further investigations of Müller’s research and thought.

K. Codell Carter
Brigham Young University

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