International Conference:
Evolving Morphology 2017

at the Research Institute of the Goetheanum in Dornach
4 - 8 October 2017

In the dawn of epigenetic inheritance, the phenotype regains a prominent position in evolutionary thinking, as traits acquired during the lifetime of individual organisms can be passed on to further generations. It is time to reconsider concepts leading towards an understanding not only of the survival – which has been well established – but the arrival of the fittest. For this reason we look forward to celebrating the 200-year anniversary of the publication of Goethe's notebooks under the title Zur Morphologie (On Morphology), with a conference:

Evolving Morphology, 4 – 8 October 2017

With these notebooks – subtitled “On natural science in general, morphology in particular” – Goethe proves himself to be, among other thinkers of his time, a forerunner of developmental biology and epigenetics.

In the context of evolutionary developmental biology and phylogenetic research, where developmental and generative processes of organismal form are taken up, the Goethean motto: Form (μορφή) as Formation (Bildung) and Transformation (Umbildung) imbues morphology with new meaning. The seminal research program conceived by Goethe under the rubric of morphologyis the science of “phenotypic development”, which has become a keyword among contemporary biologists, proclaiming its renaissance in our understanding of evolution.

Consequently, it is not surprising that during the last three decades, particularly in the area of plant developmental genetics, Goethe has been one of the most cited scientists of the 19th century. An increasing number of findings from molecular models and experimental tests corroborate ideas foreseen in his Metamorphosis.

Moreover, the Goethean concept of Bildung carries in its core an educational aspect, which invites the morphologist to engage, develop and evolve her or his cognitive capacities in a process one could call Participation. In his Maxims and Reflections, Goethe himself proposed a Delicate Empiricism connecting one with the conceptual content of a phenomenon. Thus morphology is a participative science, in so far as it provides the possibility of recognizing the intrinsic correlation between mind and form, and it is therefore, simultaneously, a Morphology of Human Knowledge.

The aim of the 2017 Evolving Morphology Conference is firstly to look back at Goethe’s original inception of the dynamic way of seeing by revisiting the conceptual and empirical foundations of his morphology; secondly, to seek for the place and role of his approach in contemporary research and education in biology; and finally to point out its ethical implications in questions of environmental and ecological public awareness.

The format of the Conference is a threefold-integrated whole, in keeping with the content and arrangement of the morphological notebooks.

1. The History of Morphology: In Goethe's time, scientific writings were usually accompanied by much-appreciated historical and autobiographical treatments. The eminent historian of science and Goethean scholar, Dorothea Kuhn, stressed this aspect of Goethe’s scientific writings, calling it the autobiographical principle. With that in mind, we would like to explore the original intention and meaning for morphology itself.

2. The Philosophy of Morphology: Central to Goethe's conception of Form is his “anschauende Urteilskraft.” This epistemic principle permeates the entire On Morpology and prescribes the method of morphological research (“vergleichende und entwickelnde Methode”).

3. The Science of Morphology: We would like to address the content of morphology through presentations of contemporary work and to evaluate the relevance of these concepts in current scientific fields. To what extent should the science of morphology be reformed when facing debates such as those involving evo-devo and cladistic research programs?

The topic of each day will be covered by invited keynote speakers and group-discussions.

There will also be sessions for Short Contributions from participants on all related topics, such as Plant Morphology, Animal Morphology, Human Morphology.

Please feel invited to submit a proposal for a presentation on your work by July 1, 2017.
Format: 20minutes (approximately 15min. for presenation and 5 min. for discussion).
Contributions in either German or English are welcome.
The link for online submission is:

The conference will be held in both German and English.

We are looking forward to welcoming you at our conference!
Ruth Richter, Joao Felipe  Toni, Johannes Kühl and the Team of the Natural Science Section


(Subject to change)