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Biophilosophy. By Bernhard Rensch. xi + 377 pp. bibliography indices. Columbia University Press New York. 1971. $12

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Book Reviews
BIOPHILOSOPHY.By Bernhard Rensch. xi
+ 377 pp., bibliography, indices. Columbia University Press, New York.
1971. $12.50 (cloth).
Even with currently heightened interest in the philosophy of science, the combination of equal sophistication in classical
philosophy and modern biology is exceptional. Indeed in this respect Bernhard
Rensch, professor emeritus of the University of Munster, may be unique. From
systematic ornithology his interests broadened to evolutionary biology in the widest sense and then moved into experimental comparative psychology, largely
influenced by Theodor Ziehen, a psychiatrist-philosopher who died in 1950 at the
age of 88. The present work, published
in German in 1968 and dedicated to Ziehen, is the mature expression of Renschs
philosophy and its biological basis.
Nearly half of the book is devoted to a n
excellent discussion of evolutionary biology, with emphasis on the belief that
biological processes are orderly and causal and that present knowledge of their
causation is sufficiently advanced to serve
as a basis for a system of philosophy.
Most of the other half of the book, in one
long chapter, is a review of the history
of epistemological and ontological theories
and Rensch’s own conclusions. That is
followed by short final chapters on the
relationship of those conclusions to ethics
and to religion.
Physical anthropology does not enter
directly into the discussion, but some of
Rensch’s views are highly relevant to that
subject. That is especially true of his argument that evolutionary events are completely determined, which entails the conclusion that they were, are, and will be
entirely predetermined as regards past,
present, and future. Thus the whole
course of evolution, including the origin
of man, was inherent in every detail in
the very nature of the universe, and every
detail of the future, including the inevitable extinction of man, is likewise inherAM. J. PHYS.ANTHROP., 37: 311-318.
ent and inevitable. Rensch does not evade
the corollary that free will is therefore
impossible, although he considers the
(necessarily false) sense of freedom as one
of the determinants and maintains that
this makes ethical systems neither impossible nor unnecessary.
Renschs philosophy is labeled as “panpsychistic, iden tistic, and polynomis tic. ’’
Matter a s substance does not exist and
what we call matter is composed of relations, not things. It is identical with
psychological phenomena about it, and
so even a n atom, before the origin of life
or now, is “protopsychic.” Phenomena are
completely subject to natural laws or principles, but these are not reducible to one
(hence are “polynomistic”).
Brief comment cannot possibly do justice to Renschs long, subtle, complex,
and (to a reader inevitably not his peer in
all fields) extremely difficult book. It is
nevertheless fair, and some may find it
reassuring, that agreement with most at least 90 percent -of his biology is consistent with disagreement with a n approximately equal proportion of his philosophical conclusions.
G. G. SIMPSON
The Simroe Foundation,
Tucson
AN ABC OF MEDICALGENETICS.By C. 0.
Carter. 94 pp., figures, index. Little,
Brown, Boston. 1969. $4.50 (cloth).
Dr. Carter’s book is a collection of seven
essays first published in Lancet, along
with two additional chapters written especially for the book. It clearly is not intended to be a description of major genetic
diseases, but rather is designed for the
practicing physician who increasingly will
be confronted with questions concerning
genetic counseling and who needs to be
aware of the simple genetic principles
which form the basis of counseling.
The book begins with a discussion of
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