Is life different from the non-living? If so, how? And how, in that case, does biology as the study of living things differ from other sciences? These questions are traced through an exploration of episodes in the history of biology and philosophy. The book begins with Aristotle, then moves on to Descartes comparing his position with that of Harvey. In the eighteenth century the authors consider Buffon and Kant. In the nineteenth century the authors examine the Cuvier-Geoffroy debate, pre-Darwinian geology (...) and natural theology, Darwin and the transition from Darwin to the revival of Mendelism. Two chapters deal with the evolutionary synthesis and such questions as the species problem, the reducibility or otherwise of biology to physics and chemistry, and the problem of biological explanation in terms of function and teleology. The final chapters reflect on the implications of the philosophy of biology for philosophy of science in general. (shrink)
In writing, in the Origin of Species, of 'two great laws' on which organic beings are formed, 'Unity of Type' and 'Conditions of Existence', Darwin was referring to the famous opposition between Cuvier and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, first stated publicly in the spring of 1830. After a brief statement of the chief points at issue in the debate, I raise the question of Darwin's attitude to the disagreement and the views of the two protagonists. There are numerous earlier, and some later, (...) references to Cuvier and Geoffroy in the Darwin archives, notebooks, marginalia and correspondence. An examination of these materials suggests a shift in Darwin's sympathies, from Geoffroy to Cuvier. However, some of Geoffroy's principles are retained, and, in adopting Cuvier's phrase 'conditions of existence', Darwin partly alters its meaning. Finally, since originally, and in its adoption by such writers as Whewell and Owen, the expression 'conditions of existence' was interpreted as entailing design or final cause, I consider the vexed question of Darwin's attitude to teleology. (shrink)
In general, philosophy does not progress as the sciences do. Philosophers seem largely to follow fashions. Of course there are fashions in the sciences, too, but in philosophy they appear to predominate. So, when I look back at the two-thirds or more of the century that I remember, I see a succession of such fashions replacing one another. At the same time, I see something resembling progress in a couple of fields that I was involved in. Finally, I find us, (...) at the close of the twentieth century, still burdened with one long-dominant attitude that many thinkers, in different ways, have tried (in vain) to overcome—an attitude reflected recently, in fact, in a particularly vocal fashion. Let me follow briefly each of these three lines of reflection. (shrink)
Before publishing his landmark Meditations in 1641, Rene Descartes sent his manuscript to many leading thinkers to solicit their objections to his arguments. He included these objections, along with his own detailed replies, as part of the first edition. This unusual strategy gave Descartes a chance to address criticisms in advance and to demonstrate his willingness to consider diverse viewpoints--critical in an age when radical ideas could result in condemnation by church and state, or even death. Descartes and his Contemporaries (...) recreates the tumultuous intellectual community of seventeenth-century Europe and provides a detailed, modern analysis of the Meditations in its historical context. The book's chapters examine the arguments and positions of each of the objectors--Hobbes, Gassendi, Arnauld, Morin, Caterus, Bourdin, and others whose views were compiled by Mersenne. They illuminate Descartes' relationships to the scholastics and particularly the Jesuits, to Mersenne's circle with its debates about the natural sciences, to the Epicurean movements of his day, and to the Augustinian tradition. Providing a glimpse of the interactions among leading 17th-century intellectuals as they grappled with major philosophical issues, this book sheds light on how Descartes' thought developed and was articulated in opposition to the ideas of his contemporaries. (shrink)
The contrast between the personal and the subjective is a central aspect of Polanyi's argument in Personal Knowledge; this essay examines the way this distinction is developed and offers possible reasons Polanyi has been misunderstood on this point. It also discusses some ambiguities in Polanyi's use of "subjective" and "subjectivity" and comments on the general neglect of Polanyi's work by philosophers.