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Profile: Charles T. Wolfe (University of Ghent, University of Sydney)
  1. Charles T. Wolfe, The Return of Vitalism: Canguilhem and French Biophilosophy in the 1960s.
    The eminent French biologist and historian of biology, François Jacob, once notoriously declared “On n’interroge plus la vie dans les laboratoires”: laboratory research no longer inquires into the notion of ‘Life’. Nowadays, as David Hull puts it, “both scientists and philosophers take ontological reduction for granted… Organisms are ‘nothing but’ atoms, and that is that.” In the mid-twentieth century, from the immediate post-war period to the late 1960s, French philosophers of science such as Georges Canguilhem, Raymond Ruyer and Gilbert Simondon (...)
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  2. Charles T. Wolfe, The Return of Vitalism.
    The eminent French biologist and historian of biology, François Jacob, once notoriously declared "On n‘interroge plus la vie dans les laboratoires": laboratory research no longer inquires into the notion of Life‘. Nowadays, as David Hull puts it, "both scientists and philosophers take ontological reduction for granted… Organisms are ‗nothing but‘ atoms, and that is that." In the mid-twentieth century, from the immediate post-war period to the late 1960s, French philosophers of science such as Georges Canguilhem, Raymond Ruyer and Gilbert Simondon (...)
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  3. Charles T. Wolfe, Teleomechanism Redux? The Conceptual Hybridity of Living Machines in Early Modern Natural Philosophy.
    We have been accustomed at least since Kant and mainstream history of philosophy to distinguish between the ‘mechanical’ and the ‘teleological’; between a fully mechanistic, quantitative science of Nature exemplified by Newton (or Galileo, or Descartes) and a teleological, qualitative approach to living beings ultimately expressed in the concept of ‘organism’ – a purposive entity, or at least an entity possessed of functions. The beauty of this distinction is that it seems to make intuitive sense and to map onto historical (...)
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  4. Charles T. Wolfe (forthcoming). From Locke to Materialism: Empiricism, the Brain and the Stirrings of Ontology. In A. L. Rey S. Bodenmann (ed.), 18th-Century Empiricism and the Sciences.
    My topic is the materialist appropriation of empiricism – as conveyed in the ‘minimal credo’ nihil est in intellectu quod non fuerit in sensu (which interestingly is not just a phrase repeated from Hobbes and Locke to Diderot, but is also a medical phrase, used by Harvey, Mandeville and others). That is, canonical empiricists like Locke go out of their way to state that their project to investigate and articulate the ‘logic of ideas’ is not a scientific project: “I shall (...)
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  5. Charles T. Wolfe (forthcoming). Was Canguilhem a Biochauvinist? Goldstein, Canguilhem and the Project of ‘Biophilosophy'. In Darian Meacham (ed.), Medicine and Society, New Continental Perspectives.
    Georges Canguilhem is known to have regretted, with some pathos, that Life no longer serves as an orienting question in our scientific activity. He also frequently insisted on a kind of uniqueness of organisms and/or living bodies – their inherent normativity, their value-production and overall their inherent difference from mere machines. In addition, Canguilhem acknowledged a major debt to the German neurologist-theoretician Kurt Goldstein, author most famously of The Structure of the Organism in 1934; along with Merleau-Ponty, Canguilhem was the (...)
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  6. Charles T. Wolfe (2014). Epigenesis as Spinozism in Diderot’s Biological Project (Draft). In O. Nachtomy J. E. H. Smith (ed.), The Life Sciences in Early Modern Philosophy. Oxford University Press. 181-201.
    Denis Diderot’s natural philosophy is deeply and centrally ‘biologistic’: as it emerges between the 1740s and 1780s, thus right before the appearance of the term ‘biology’ as a way of designating a unified science of life (McLaughlin), his project is motivated by the desire both to understand the laws governing organic beings and to emphasize, more ‘philosophically’, the uniqueness of organic beings within the physical world as a whole. This is apparent both in the metaphysics of vital matter he puts (...)
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  7. Charles T. Wolfe (2014). On the Role of Newtonian Analogies in Eighteenth-Century Life Science:Vitalism and Provisionally Inexplicable Explicative Devices. In Zvi Biener & Eric Schliesser (eds.), Newton and Empiricism. Oxford UP. 223-261.
    Newton’s impact on Enlightenment natural philosophy has been studied at great length, in its experimental, methodological and ideological ramifications. One aspect that has received fairly little attention is the role Newtonian “analogies” played in the formulation of new conceptual schemes in physiology, medicine, and life science as a whole. So-called ‘medical Newtonians’ like Pitcairne and Keill have been studied; but they were engaged in a more literal project of directly transposing, or seeking to transpose, Newtonian laws into quantitative models of (...)
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  8. Charles T. Wolfe (2014). Sensibility as Vital Force or as Property of Matter in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Debates. In Henry Martyn Lloyd (ed.), The Discourse of Sensibility: The Knowing Body in the Enlightenment. Springer. 147-170.
    Sensibility, in any of its myriad realms – moral, physical, aesthetic, medical and so on – seems to be a paramount case of a higher-level, intentional property, not a basic property. Diderot famously made the bold and attributive move of postulating that matter itself senses, or that sensibility (perhaps better translated ‘sensitivity’ here) is a general or universal property of matter, even if he at times took a step back from this claim and called it a “supposition.” Crucially, sensibility is (...)
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  9. Charles T. Wolfe (2014). The Organism as Ontological Go-Between. Hybridity, Boundaries and Degrees of Reality in its Conceptual History. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 1:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.shps.
    The organism is neither a discovery like the circulation of the blood or the glycogenic function of the liver, nor a particular biological theory like epigenesis or preformationism. It is rather a concept which plays a series of roles – sometimes overt, sometimes masked – throughout the history of biology, and frequently in very normative ways, also shifting between the biological and the social. Indeed, it has often been presented as a key-concept in life science and the ‘theorization’ of Life, (...)
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  10. Sebastian Normandin & Charles T. Wolfe (2013). Vitalism and the Scientific Image: An Introduction. In Sebastian Normandin & Charles T. Wolfe (eds.), Vitalism and the scientific image, 1800-2010. Springer.
  11. Sebastian Normandin & Charles T. Wolfe (eds.) (2013). Vitalism and the Scientific Image, 1800-2010. Springer.
  12. Charles T. Wolfe & Ofer Gal (2013). Charles T. Wolfe et Ofer Gal éd., The Body as Object and Instrument of Knowledge. Embodied Empiricism in Early Modern Science. Dordrecht, Springer (Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, vol. XXV), 2010, 349 p., 157,41 euros. [REVIEW] Astérion 11.
    L’empirisme, comme mode de connaissance mais aussi comme tradition de pensée, a longtemps été négligé, que ce soit en histoire des sciences ou en histoire de la philosophie. Longtemps opposé au rationalisme, l’empirisme fait figure de mode de connaissance rhapsodique et non systématique. Associé au scepticisme, il est considéré comme une forme de renoncement à la connaissance, se contentant de décrire l’apparence des choses quand la véritable .
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  13. Charles T. Wolfe (2012). Chance Between Holism and Reductionism: Tensions in the Conceptualisation of Life. Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology.
    In debates between holism and reductionism in biology, from the early 20th century to more recent re-enactments involving genetic reductionism, developmental systems theory, or systems biology, the role of chance – the presence of theories invoking chance as a strong explanatory principle – is hardly ever acknowledged. Conversely, Darwinian models of chance and selection (Dennett 1995, Kupiec 1996, Kupiec 2009) sit awkwardly with reductionist and holistic concepts, which they alternately challenge or approve of. I suggest that the juxtaposition of chance (...)
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  14. Charles T. Wolfe (2012). Forms of Materialist Embodiment. In Matthew Landers & Brian Muñoz (eds.), Anatomy and the Organization of Knowledge, 1500-1850. Pickering and Chatto.
    The materialist approach to the body is often, if not always understood in ‘mechanistic’ terms, as the view in which the properties unique to organic, living embodied agents are reduced to or described in terms of properties that characterize matter as a whole, which allow of mechanistic explanation. Indeed, from Hobbes and Descartes in the 17th century to the popularity of automata such as Vaucanson’s in the 18th century, this vision of things would seem to be correct. In this paper (...)
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  15. Charles T. Wolfe (2012). Paolo Quintili, Matérialismes Et Lumières. Philosophies de la Vie, Autour de Diderot Et de Quelques Autres 1706-1789 (Paris: Honoré Champion, 2009), Pp. 334, € 82.00, ISBN 978 2 7453 1786 5. [REVIEW] Early Science and Medicine 17 (6):669-671.
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  16. Charles T. Wolfe & Benjamin Goldberg (2012). Luuc Kooijmans . Death Defied: The Anatomy Lessons of Frederik Ruysch , Trans. Diane Webb. Leiden: Brill, 2011. History of Science and Medicine Library, Vol. 18. Pp. Xvi+472, Index. $169.00 (Cloth). [REVIEW] Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 2 (1):177-182.
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  17. Charles T. Wolfe (2011). From Substantival to Functional Vitalism and Beyond. Eidos 14:212-235.
    I distinguish between ‘substantival’ and ‘functional’ forms of vitalism in the eighteenth century. Substantival vitalism presupposes the existence of a (substantive) vital force which either plays a causal role in the natural world as studied scientifically, or remains an immaterial, extra-causal entity. Functional vitalism tends to operate ‘post facto’, from the existence of living bodies to the search for explanatory models that will account for their uniquely ‘vital’ properties better than fully mechanistic models can. I discuss representative figures of the (...)
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  18. Phillipe Huneman & Charles T. Wolfe (2010). The Concept of Organism: Historical Philosophical, Scientific Perspectives. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 32 (2-3):147.
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  19. Charles T. Wolfe (2010). Critical Review: On Catherine Wilson'S Epicureanism at the Origins of Modernity. [REVIEW] Journal of Scottish Philosophy 8 (1):91-100.
  20. Charles T. Wolfe (2010). Do Organisms Have an Ontological Status? History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 32 (2-3):195-232.
    The category of ‘organism’ has an ambiguous status: is it scientific or is it philosophical? Or, if one looks at it from within the relatively recent field or sub-field of philosophy of biology, is it a central, or at least legitimate category therein, or should it be dispensed with? In any case, it has long served as a kind of scientific “bolstering” for a philosophical train of argument which seeks to refute the “mechanistic” or “reductionist” trend, which has been perceived (...)
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  21. Charles T. Wolfe (2010). Empiricist Heresies in Early Modern Medical Thought. In Charles T. Wolfe & Ofer Gal (eds.), The Body as Object and Instrument of Knowledge. Springer. 333--344.
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  22. Charles T. Wolfe (2010). Endowed Molecules and Emergent Organization : The Maupertuis-Diderot Debate. In Tobias Cheung (ed.), Transitions and Borders Between Animals, Humans, and Machines, 1600-1800. Brill. 38-65.
    At the very beginning of L’Homme-Machine, La Mettrie claims that Leibnizians with their monads have “rather spiritualized matter than materialized the soul”; a few years later Pierre-Louis Moreau de Maupertuis, President of the Berlin Academy of Sciences and natural philosopher with a strong interest in the modes of transmission of ‘genetic’ information, conceived of living minima which he termed molecules, “endowed with desire, memory and intelligence,” in his Système de la nature ou Essai sur les corps organisés. This text first (...)
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  23. Charles T. Wolfe (2010). From Spinoza to the Socialist Cortex: The Social Brain. In Deborah Hauptmann & Warren Neidich (eds.), Cognitive Architecture.
    The concept of 'social brain‘ is a hybrid, located somewhere in between politically motivated philosophical speculation about the mind and its place in the social world, and recently emerged inquiries into cognition, selfhood, development, etc., returning to some of the founding insights of social psychology but embedding them in a neuroscientific framework. In this paper I try to reconstruct a philosophical tradition for the social brain, a ‗Spinozist‘ tradition which locates the brain within the broader network of relations, including social (...)
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  24. Charles T. Wolfe (2010). Locke’s Compatibilism: Suspension of Desire or Suspension of Determinism? In Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O.’Rourke & Harry Silverstein (eds.), Action, Ethics and Responsibility. MIT Press.
    In Book II, chapter xxi of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, on ‘Power’, Locke presents a radical critique of free will. This is the longest chapter in the Essay, and it is a difficult one, not least since Locke revised it four times without always taking care to ensure that every part cohered with the rest. My interest is to work out a coherent statement of what would today be termed ‘compatibilism’ from this text – namely, a doctrine which seeks (...)
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  25. Charles T. Wolfe (2010). Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding: A Reader's Guide. British Journal for the History of Philosophy 18 (4):719-721.
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  26. Charles T. Wolfe (2010). Embodied Empiricism. In Charles T. Wolfe & Ofer Gal (eds.), The Body as object and instrument of knowledge. Springer. 1--6.
    This is the introduction to a collection of essays on 'embodied empiricism' in early modern philosophy and the life sciences - papers on Harvey, Glisson, Locke, Hume, Bonnet, Lamarck, on anatomy and physiology, on medicine and natural history, etc.
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  27. Charles T. Wolfe (2010). Rethinking Empiricism and Materialism: The Revisionist View. Annales Philosophici 1 (1):101-113.
    There is an enduring story about empiricism, which runs as follows: from Locke onwards to Carnap, empiricism is the doctrine in which raw sense-data are received through the passive mechanism of perception; experience is the effect produced by external reality on the mind or ‘receptors’. Empiricism on this view is the ‘handmaiden’ of experimental natural science, seeking to redefine philosophy and its methods in conformity with the results of modern science. Secondly, there is a story about materialism, popularized initially by (...)
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  28. Charles T. Wolfe & Ofer Gal (eds.) (2010). The Body as Object and Instrument of Knowledge. Embodied Empiricism in Early Modern Science. Springer.
  29. Charles T. Wolfe & Ofer Gal (eds.) (2010). The Body as Object and Instrument of Knowledge. Springer.
    A collection of essays on early modern empiricism in the life sciences and in philosophy, focusing on the role of the body (embodiment, the passions, medical theory and so on).
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  30. Alan Salter & Charles T. Wolfe (2009). “Empiricism Contra Experiment: Harvey, Locke and the Revisionist View of Experimental Philosophy”. Bulletin d'histoire et d'épistémologie des sciences de la vie 16 (2):113-140.
    In this paper we suggest a revisionist perspective on two significant figures in early modern life science and philosophy: William Harvey and John Locke. Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood, is often named as one of the rare representatives of the ‘life sciences’ who was a major figure in the Scientific Revolution. While this status itself is problematic, we would like to call attention to a different kind of problem: Harvey dislikes abstraction and controlled experiments (aside from (...)
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  31. Charles T. Wolfe (2009). A Happiness Fit for Organic Bodies: La Mettrie's Medical Epicureanism. In Neven Leddy & Avi Lifschitz (eds.), Epicurus in the Enlightenment. Voltaire Foundation. 69--83.
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  32. Charles T. Wolfe (2009). “Cabinet d'Histoire Naturelle,” Or: The Interplay of Nature and Artifice in Diderot's Naturalism. Perspectives on Science 17 (1):pp. 58-77.
    In selected texts by Diderot, including the Encyclopédie article “Cabinet d’histoire naturelle” (along with his comments in the article “Histoire nat-urelle”), the Pensées sur l’interprétation de la nature and the Salon de 1767, I examine the interplay between philosophical naturalism and the recognition of the irreducible nature of artifice, in order to arrive at a provisional definition of Diderot’s vision of Nature as “une femme qui aime à se travestir.” How can a metaphysics in which the concept of Nature has (...)
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  33. Charles T. Wolfe (2008). Introduction: Vitalism Without Metaphysics? Medical Vitalism in the Enlightenment. Science in Context 21 (4):461.
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  34. Charles T. Wolfe (2008). Vitalism Without Metaphysics? Medical Vitalism in the Enlightenment. Science in Context 21 (4):461-463.
    This is the introduction to a special issue of 'Science in Context' on vitalism that I edited. The contents are: 1. Guido Giglioni — “What Ever Happened to Francis Glisson? Albrecht Haller and the Fate of Eighteenth-Century Irritability” 2. Dominique Boury— “Irritability and Sensibility: Two Key Concepts in Assessing the Medical Doctrines of Haller and Bordeu” 3. Tobias Cheung — “Regulating Agents, Functional Interactions, and Stimulus-Reaction-Schemes: The Concept of “Organism” in the Organic System Theories of Stahl, Bordeu and Barthez” 4. (...)
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  35. Charles T. Wolfe & Motoichi Terada (2008). The Animal Economy as Object and Program in Montpellier Vitalism. Science in Context 21 (4):537.
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  36. Charles T. Wolfe (2007). “Determinism/Spinozism in the Radical Enlightenment: The Cases of Anthony Collins and Denis Diderot”. International Review of Eighteenth-Century Studies 1 (1):37-51.
    In his Philosophical Inquiry concerning Human Liberty (1717), the English deist Anthony Collins proposed a complete determinist account of the human mind and action, partly inspired by his mentor Locke, but also by elements from Bayle, Leibniz and other Continental sources. It is a determinism which does not neglect the question of the specific status of the mind but rather seeks to provide a causal account of mental activity and volition in particular; it is a ‘volitional determinism’. Some decades later, (...)
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  37. Charles T. Wolfe (2007). Le rêve matérialiste, ou « Faire par la pensée ce que la matière fait parfois ». Philosophiques 34 (2):317-328.
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  38. Charles T. Wolfe (2005). “The Materialist Denial of Monsters”. In Charles Wolfe (ed.), Monsters and Philosophy. 187--204.
    Locke and Leibniz deny that there are any such beings as ‘monsters’ (anomalies, natural curiosities, wonders, and marvels), for two very different reasons. For Locke, monsters are not ‘natural kinds’: the word ‘monster’ does not individuate any specific class of beings ‘out there’ in the natural world. Monsters depend on our subjective viewpoint. For Leibniz, there are no monsters because we are all parts of the Great Chain of Being. Everything that happens, happens for a reason, including a monstrous birth. (...)
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  39. Charles T. Wolfe (2003). The Creation of the Modern World. [REVIEW] Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 24 (1):227-231.
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  40. Barbara Cassin & tr Wolfe, Charles T. (2000). Who's Afraid of the Sophists? Against Ethical Correctness. Hypatia 15 (4):102-120.
    What is sophistics ? What are the genuine reasons of philosophers'hostility, from Plato and Aristotle to Habermas and Badiou ? This text offers a new definition of sophistics as critique of mainstream ontology and a description of the efficiency of such a critical view, through a comprehensive explanation of the primitive scenery between Parmenides'Poem and Gorgias' Treatise of Non-being, and Aristotle's settlement of the principle of non-contradiction in book Gamma of Metaphysics.
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  41. Charles T. Wolfe (1996). Materialism. Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal 19 (1):183-185.
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  42. Reiner Schürmann & Charles T. Wolfe (1994). Concerning Philosophy in the United States. Social Research 61 (1).
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