Karl Vogt

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Karl Vogt
Carl Vogt formal portrait.jpg
Vogt in 1870
Born5 July 1817 (1817-07-05)
Died5 May 1895 (1895-05-06) (aged 77)
Geneva, Switzerland
EducationUniversity of Giessen
University of Bern (M.D., 1839)
Era19th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolGerman materialism[1]
InstitutionsUniversity of Giessen
University of Geneva
Main interests
Philosophy of science, political philosophy
Notable ideas

Karl Christoph Vogt (German: [foːkt]; originally Carl; 5 July 1817 – 5 May 1895) was a German scientist, philosopher and politician who emigrated to Switzerland. Vogt published a number of notable works on zoology, geology and physiology. All his life he was engaged in politics, in the German Frankfurt Parliament of 1848–9 and later in Switzerland.



Vogt in 1848.

Vogt was the son of Philipp Friedrich Wilhelm Vogt [de], professor of clinics, and Louise Follenius. His maternal uncle was Charles Follen.[5]


Vogt studied medicine at the University of Giessen. He earned his medical doctorate from the University of Bern in 1839 with a dissertation under the title Beiträge zur Anatomie der Amphibien.


In 1847 he became professor of zoology at the University of Giessen, and in 1852 professor of geology and afterwards also of zoology at the University of Geneva. His earlier publications were on zoology. He dealt with the Amphibia (1839), Reptiles (1840), with Mollusca and Crustacea (1845) and more generally with the invertebrate fauna of the Mediterranean (1854).[6] In 1842, during his time with Louis Agassiz in Neuchâtel, he discovered the mechanism of apoptosis, the programmed cell death, while studying the development of the tadpole of the midwife toad (Alytes obstetricans). Charles Darwin mentions Vogt's support for the theory of evolution in the introduction to his The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871). Vogt was also a proponent of scientific materialism and atheism.[7]


Vogt was active in German politics and was a left-wing representative in the Frankfurt Parliament. Karl Marx scathingly replied to attacks by Karl Vogt in his book Herr Vogt (Mister Vogt) in 1860.[8] Marx's defenders pointed to the fact that, years later (1871), records published after the fall of the Second Empire proofed that Vogt had been indeed secretly in the pay of the French Emperor.[9]


Karl Vogt was a proponent of polygenist evolution; he rejected the monogenist beliefs of most Darwinists and instead believed that each race had evolved from a different type of ape.[10] Vogt believed that the Negro was related to the ape. He wrote the White race was a separate species from Negroes. In Chapter VII of his Lectures on Man (1864) he compared the Negro to the White race and described them as “two extreme human types”. The differences between them, he claimed, are greater than those between two species of ape; and this proved that Negroes are a separate species from Whites.[11]


The city of Geneva, Switzerland named a boulevard (Boulevard Carl-Vogt) after Vogt and by erected a memorial bust in the park of the University of Geneva.[12]


  • Untersuchungen über die Entwicklungsgeschichte der Geburtshelferkröte (Alytes obstetricians), Solothurn: Jent und Gassman (1842)
  • Im Gebirg und auf den Gletschern (In the mountains and on the glaciers; 1843)
  • Physiologische Briefe (Letters on physiology; 1845–46)
  • Grundriss der Geologie (Outline of geology; 1860)
  • Lehrbuch der Geologie und Petrefactenkunde (Textbook on geology and petrification, 2 vols.; 1846–47; 4th ed., 1879)
  • An English version of his Lectures on Man: his Place in Creation and in the History of the Earth was published by the Anthropological Society of London in 1864.[6]


  1. ^ Owen Chadwick, The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge University Press, 1990, p. 165: "During the 1850s German ... scientists conducted a controversy known ... as the materialistic controversy. It was specially associated with the names of Vogt, Moleschott and Büchner" and p. 173: "Frenchmen were surprised to see Büchner and Vogt. ... [T]he French were surprised at German materialism".
  2. ^ The Louisiana Planter and Sugar Manufacturer, Vol. 70, 1923, p. 184.
  3. ^ Nicolaas A. Rupke, Alexander von Humboldt: A Metabiography, University of Chicago Press, 2008, p. 54.
  4. ^ John Powell, Derek W. Blakeley, Tessa Powell (eds.), Biographical Dictionary of Literary Influences: The Nineteenth Century, 1800-1914, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001, "Pavlov, Ivan Petrovich (1849–1936)."
  5. ^ "Sketch of Karl Vogt". Popular Science Monthly: 116. November 1897. Retrieved 7 May 2013.
  6. ^ a b  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Vogt, Karl Christoph". Encyclopædia Britannica. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 172.
  7. ^ Spencer, Nick. Atheists: The Origin of the Species. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
  8. ^ Franz Mehring (1918). "Chapter 10.5: Herr Vogt". Karl Marx: The story of his life. Translated by Edward Fitzgerald. Transcribed by Sally Ryan for marxists.org in 2000.
  9. ^ "After the Emperor’s fall in 1870, the republican government of Thiers published documents from the archives of the imperial government which included a receipt signed by Vogt for 40,000 francs from the secret fund of Napoleon" Karl Marx on Herr Vogt - Timely Excerpts from a Classic
  10. ^ Colin Kidd, The forging of races: race and scripture in the Protestant Atlantic world, 1600-2000, 2006, p. 58.
  11. ^ Gustav Jahoda, Images of savages: ancients [sic] roots of modern prejudice in Western culture, 1999, p. 83.
  12. ^ Peter Schubert (April 2011). "Carl A. C. Vogt". Hydrozoa directory. Muséum Genève. Retrieved 4 June 2012.


  • Fredrick Gregory: Scientific Materialism in Nineteenth Century Germany, Springer, Berlin u.a. 1977, ISBN 90-277-0760-X

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