Morphology is an "account of form," an account that allows us a rational grasp of the morphe by making internal and external relations intelligible. It seeks to be a general theory of the formative powers of organic structure. The Pre-Darwinian project of rational morphology was to discover the "laws of form," some inherent necessity in the laws which governed morphological process. It sought to construct what was typical in the varieties of form into a system which should not be merely historically determined, but which should be intelligible from a higher and more rational standpoint. (Hans Driesch, 1914, p. 149)
Classical morphology concentrates more on the relations between forms than on the processes that might give rise to them. (eg. morphogenesis) (see also adaptation) Morphology studies the forms of organisms by juxtaposing them and evolving, from this juxtaposition, a standard of comparison. Since the work of Aristotle, who described variation according to "excess or defect," the most obvious standard of comparison has been that of homology.
Goethe seemed to be satisfied that his morphology was both a descriptive one and a causal one. (see explain / describe) For Goethe form -- at least in the sense of archetypal form -- is itself causal, so that form and law can be thought of as identical. It is in this sense that style, for Goethe, rests in the deepest foundations of knowledge, in the very essence of things, insofar as we are permitted to have knowledge of it through visible and tangible gestalts.
In his descriptions of his experience of the Urpflanze, Goethe set the tone for accounts of natural form as a meeting of the subjective and the objective in a sensuous intellectual intuition. (Ronald H. Brady, "Form and Cause in Goethe's Morphology," in Amrine, F. and Zucker, F. J. eds, Goethe and the Sciences: A Reappraisal, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, vol 97, Dordrecht, 1987.)
But Goethe's concept of "genesis" is not a proto-Darwinian account. It is dynamic, not historical. The transformations by which the various parts of the plant, its sepals, petals, stamens, and so on, originated from the one common archetype, the leaf, is an ideal, not a real genesis. (E. Cassirer, The Problem of Knowledge, p149)