AskDefine | Define organicism

Dictionary Definition

organicism n : theory that the total organization of an organism rather than the functioning of individual organs is the determinant of life processes

Extensive Definition

Organicism is a philosophical orientation that asserts that reality is best understood as an organic whole. By definition it is close to holism. Plato, Hobbes or Constantin Brunner are examples of such philosophical thought.
Organicism is also a biological doctrine that stresses the organization, rather than the composition, of organisms. William Emerson Ritter coined the term in 1919. Organicism became well-accepted in the 20th century.
Organicism' has also been used to characterize notions put forth by various late 19th-century social scientists who considered human society to be analogous to an organism, and individual humans to be analogous to the cells of an organism. This sort of organicist sociology was articulated by Alfred Espinas, Paul von Lilienfeld, Jacques Novicow, Albert Schäffle, Herbert Spencer, and René Worms, among others (Barberis 2003: 54).


  • Barberis D. S. (2003). In search of an object: Organicist sociology and the reality of society in fin-de-siècle France. History of the Human Sciences, vol 16, no. 3, pp. 51–72.
  • Mayr, E. (1997). The organicists. In What is the meaning of life. In This is biology. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
organicism in German: Organizismus
organicism in French: Organicisme
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