Ratzel’s work has been arousing a moderate interest since the end of the twentieth century. Nevertheless, the German geographer seem still an ambiguous theorist, halfway between different schools of thought and strands of study very distant from each other. The aim of this essay is giving a guide to sort out some of his ambiguities, through a clarification of most problematic perspectives of the author. Specifically, the analysis points out which is the epistemological position of the Ratzelian thought between determinism and finalism. According to this account, this interpretive line endorses the Ratzelian vision of the sciences of life examining the concepts of totality, part and organization. Ratzel’s distance from determinism, mechanicism and, in general, from positivism, will be emphasized. To do that, we shall clarify the manner in which the German geographer’s naturalistic finalism is based on the concept of organism’s autonomy.
Keywords: Friedrich Ratzel, finalism, determinism, epistemology, natural sciences.