Traditional approaches to understanding the behavioural and emotional aspects of moral development are described. Research from other cultures is reviewed which suggests that the greater valuation of authoritative over authoritarian approaches in our own (individualist) culture may not hold in other cultures. This may be because individualist cultures have different goals from collectivist cultures (autonomy vs. interdependence) and because negative parenting affect and cognitions associated with authoritarian or power assertive rearing in our own culture may not be associated with authoritarian (...) practices in other cultures. Data are presented indicating that autonomy support is valued more highly than power assertion as a socialisation technique in an individualist group but not a collectivist group. Implications for parenting and moral education are provided. (shrink)
We invited five Cavell scholars to write on this topic. What follows is a vibrant exchange among Paola Marrati, Andrew Norris, Jörg Volbers, Cary Wolfe and Thomas Dumm addressing the question whether, in the contemporary political context, Cavell’s skepticism and his Emersonian perfectionism amount to a politics at all.
In Animal Rites, Cary Wolfe examines contemporary notions of humanism and ethics by reconstructing a little known but crucial underground tradition of theorizing the animal from Wittgenstein, Cavell, and Lyotard to Lévinas, Derrida, ...
_Philosophy and Animal Life_ offers a new way of thinking about animal rights, our obligation to animals, and the nature of philosophy itself. Cora Diamond begins with "The Difficulty of Reality and the Difficulty of Philosophy," in which she accuses analytical philosophy of evading, or deflecting, the responsibility of human beings toward nonhuman animals. Diamond then explores the animal question as it is bound up with the more general problem of philosophical skepticism. Focusing specifically on J. M. Coetzee's _The Lives (...) of Animals_, she considers the failure of language to capture the vulnerability of humans and animals. Stanley Cavell responds to Diamond's argument with his own close reading of Coetzee's work, connecting the human-animal relation to further themes of morality and philosophy. John McDowell follows with a critique of both Diamond and Cavell, and Ian Hacking explains why Cora Diamond's essay is so deeply perturbing and, paradoxically for a philosopher, he favors poetry over philosophy as a way of overcoming some of her difficulties. Cary Wolfe's introduction situates these arguments within the broader context of contemporary continental philosophy and theory, particularly Jacques Derrida's work on deconstruction and the question of the animal. _Philosophy and Animal Life_ is a crucial collection for those interested in animal rights, ethics, and the development of philosophical inquiry. It also offers a unique exploration of the role of ethics in Coetzee's fiction. (shrink)
Bringing these two emergent areas of thought into direct conversation in Before the Law, Cary Wolfe fosters a new discussion about the status of nonhuman animals and the shared plight of humans and animals under biopolitics.
Philosophy of biology before biology -/- Edited by Cécilia Bognon-Küss & Charles T. Wolfe -/- Table of contents -/- Cécilia Bognon-Küss & Charles T. Wolfe. Introduction -/- 1. Cécilia Bognon-Küss & Charles T. Wolfe. The idea of “philosophy of biology before biology”: a methodological provocation -/- Part I. FORM AND DEVELOPMENT -/- 2. Stéphane Schmitt. Buffon’s theories of generation and the changing dialectics of molds and molecules 3. Phillip Sloan. Metaphysics and “Vital” Materialism: The Gabrielle Du Châtelet (...) Circle and French Vitalism 4. John Zammito. The Philosophical Reception of C. F. Wolff’s Epigenesis in Germany, 1770-1790: Herder, Tetens and Kant -/- Part II. ORGANISM & ORGANIZATION 5. François Duchesneau. Senebier and the Advent of General Physiology 6. Tobias Cheung. Organization and Process. Living Systems Between Inner and Outer Worlds: Cuvier, Hufeland, Cabanis. -/- Part III. SYSTEMS 7. Georg Toepfer. Philosophy of Ecology Long Before Ecology: Kant’s Idea of an Organized System of Organized Beings 8. Ina Goy. "All is leaf". Goethe's plant philosophy and poetry 9. Snait Gissis. ‘Biology’, Lamarck, Lamarckisms -/- POSTSCRIPTS 1. Lynn Nyhart. A Historical Proposal Around Prepositions -/- 2. Philippe Huneman. Philosophy after Philosophy of Biology before Biology -/- Cécilia Bognon-Küss and Charles T. Wolfe. Conclusion . (shrink)
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 (...) forth in works such as D’Alembert’s Dream (1769) and the more empirical concern with the mechanics of life in his manuscript Elements of Physiology, on which he worked during the last twenty years of his life. This ‘biologism’ obviously presents the interpreter of Diderot with some difficulties, notably as regards his materialism, given that contemporary forms of materialism have on the contrary strongly rejected notions of emergence, vitalism, teleology and any concepts appealing to unique, irreducible features of organisms. In response, some have described him as a ‘holist’ (Kaitaro) while others have emphasized his materialist, naturalist project (Bourdin, Wolfe). In what follows I examine a little-known aspect of Diderot’s articulation of his biological project: his statement in favour of epigenesis within the short but suggestive Encyclopédie article “Spinosiste.” Diderot was, of course, a partisan of epigenesis (the developmental-biological theory opposed to preformation, according to which beings develop by successive adjunction of layers of matter), but why include a statement in favour of a particular biological (or developmental) theory within an entry dealing with a philosopher, Spinoza, who does not seem to have been concerned at all with the specific properties of living beings, how they grow from embryonic to developed states, and so on? By trying to answer this question I also try and locate Diderot’s biological project in relation to what will become, in the years after his death, the project for a science called ‘biology’, with figures such as Treviranus and Lamarck. For it is not clear that the two can be easily correlated or causally linked: Diderot’s ‘epigenetic Spinozism’ is a different conceptual entity from what we find in histories of biology. (shrink)
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 (...) not at present meddle with the Physical consideration of the Mind” (Essay, I.i.2, in Locke 1975; which Kant gets exactly wrong in his reading of Locke, in the Preface to the A edition of the first Critique). Indeed, I have suggested elsewhere, contrary to a prevalent reading of Locke, that the Essay is not the extension to the study of the mind of the methods of natural philosophy; that he is actually not the “underlabourer” of Newton and Boyle he claims politely to be in the Epistle to the Reader (Wolfe and Salter 2009, Wolfe 2010). Rather, Locke says quite directly if we pay heed to such passages, “Our Business here is not to know all things, but those which concern our Conduct” (Essay, I.i.6). There would be more to say here about what this implies for our understanding of empiricism (see Norton 1981 and Gaukroger 2005), but instead I shall focus on a different aspect of this episode: how a non-naturalistic claim which falls under what we now call epistemology (a claim about the senses as the source of knowledge) becomes an ontology – materialism. That is, how an empiricist claim could shift from being about the sources of knowledge to being about the nature of reality (and/or the mind, in which case it needs, as David Hartley saw and Denis Diderot proclaimed more overtly, an account of the relation between mental processes and the brain). (David Armstrong, for one, denied that there could be an identification between empiricism and materialism on this point: eighteenth-century history of science seems to prove him wrong: see Armstrong 1968 and 1978.) Put differently, I want to examine the shift from the logic of ideas in the seventeenth century (Locke) to an eighteenth-century focus on what kind of ‘world’ the senses give us (Condillac), to an assertion that there is only one substance in the universe (Diderot, giving a materialist cast to Spinozism), and that we need an account of the material substrate of mental life. This is neither a ‘scientific empiricism’ nor a linear developmental process from philosophical empiricism to natural science, but something else again: the unpredictable emergence of an ontology on empiricist grounds. (shrink)
The self-fashioning of French Newtonianism Content Type Journal Article DOI 10.1007/s11016-010-9511-3 Authors Charles T. Wolfe, Unit for History and Philosophy of Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia David Gilad, Unit for History and Philosophy of Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia Journal Metascience Online ISSN 1467-9981 Print ISSN 0815-0796.
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. (...) Charles T. Wolfe & Motoichi Terada — “The Animal Economy as Object and Program in Montpellier Vitalism” 5. Timo Kaitaro — “Can Matter Mark the Hours? – Eighteenth-Century Vitalist Materialism and Functional Properties” 6. Elizabeth Williams —“Of Two Lives One? Jean-Charles-Marguerite-Guillaume Grimaud and the Question of Holism in Vitalist Medicine” 7. Philippe Huneman — “Montpellier Vitalism and the Emergence of Alienism in France (1750-1800): The Case of the Passions” 8. Elke Witt —“Form – A Matter of Generation. The Relation of Generation, Form and Function in the Epigenetic Theory of C.F. Wolff” . (shrink)
Animal studies and biopolitics are two of the most dynamic areas of interdisciplinary scholarship, but until now, they have had little to say to each other. Bringing these two emergent areas of thought into direct conversation in _Before the Law_, Cary Wolfe fosters a new discussion about the status of nonhuman animals and the shared plight of humans and animals under biopolitics. Wolfe argues that the human-animal distinction must be supplemented with the central distinction of biopolitics: the difference (...) between those animals that are members of a community and those that are deemed killable but not murderable. From this understanding, we can begin to make sense of the fact that this distinction prevails within both the human and animal domains and address such difficult issues as why we afford some animals unprecedented levels of care and recognition while subjecting others to unparalleled forms of brutality and exploitation. Engaging with many major figures in biopolitical thought—from Heidegger, Arendt, and Foucault to Agamben, Esposito, and Derrida—Wolfe explores how biopolitics can help us understand both the ethical and political dimensions of the current questions surrounding the rights of animals. (shrink)
0. Philippe Huneman and Charles T. Wolfe: Introduction 1. Tobias Cheung, “What is an ‘organism’? On the occurrence of a new term and its conceptual transformations 1680-1850” 2. Charles T. Wolfe, “Do organisms have an ontological status?” 3. John Symons, “The individuality of artifacts and organisms” 4. Thomas Pradeu, “What is an organism? An immunological answer” 5. Matteo Mossio & Alvaro Moreno, “Organisational closure in biological organisms” 6. Laura Nuño de la Rosa, “Becoming organisms. The organisation of development (...) and the development of organisation” 7. Denis Walsh, “Two Neo-Darwinisms” 8. Philippe Huneman, “Assessing the prospects for a return of organisms in evolutionary biology” 9. Johannes Martens, “Organisms in evolution” 10. Susan Oyama, “Biologists behaving badly: Vitalism and the language of language” . (shrink)
Though others have surveyed the different methods in comparative religious ethics, relatively little attention has been given to different approaches to pedagogy. The field of comparative religious ethics has now reached a level of maturity so that there are a variety of ways such courses can be taught. In this review I consider the approaches to comparative religious ethics found in four recent texts by Jacob Neusner, Darrell Fasching and Dell deChant, Regina Wolfe and Christine Gudorf, and Sumner Twiss (...) and Bruce Grelle. In the essay I note the strengths and weaknesses of each text, with special attention given to how the texts might work in the classroom. I then argue that the different texts reflect different understandings of the goal of teaching comparative religious ethics, and I make these goals explicit in order to help teachers decide how they might approach the teaching in this growing field. (shrink)
School choice has lately risen to the top of the list of potential solutions to America's educational problems, particularly for the poor and the most disadvantaged members of society. Indeed, in the last few years several states have held referendums on the use of vouchers in private and parochial schools, and more recently, the Supreme Court reviewed the constitutionality of a scholarship program that uses vouchers issued to parents. While there has been much debate over the empirical and methodological aspects (...) of school choice policies, discussions related to the effects such policies may have on the nation's moral economy and civil society have been few and far between. School Choice, a collection of essays by leading philosophers, historians, legal scholars, and theologians, redresses this situation by addressing the moral and normative side of school choice.The twelve essays, commissioned for a conference on school choice that took place at Boston College in 2001, are organized into four sections that consider the relationship of school choice to equality, moral pluralism, institutional ecology, and constitutionality. Each section consists of three essays followed by a critical response. The contributors are Patrick McKinley Brennan, Charles L. Glenn, Amy Gutmann, David Hollenbach, S. J., Meira Levinson, Sanford Levinson, Stephen Macedo, John T. McGreevy, Martha Minow, Richard J. Mouw, Joseph O'Keefe, S. J., Michael J. Perry, Nancy L. Rosenblum, Rosemary C. Salomone, Joseph P. Viteritti, Paul J. Weithman, and Alan Wolfe. (shrink)
The paper by Cary Wolfe is an abridged translation of the chapter »Animal Studies«, Disciplinarity, and the (Post)Humanities from the monograph (Minnesota 2009). Wolfe discusses the relation between (trans-)disciplinarity and posthumanism with reference to concepts by Derrida, Foucault and Luhmann, allowing to consider a form of social communication in which human subjects still may participate, but no longer are their sovereign initiators. German Der Text von Cary Wolfe ist eine gekürzte Übersetzung des Kapitels »Animal Studies«, Disciplinarity, and (...) the (Post)Humanities aus der Monographie What is Posthumanism? (Minnesota 2009). Wolfe diskutiert die Beziehung zwischen (Trans-)Disziplinarität und Posthumanismus im Rückgriff auf Konzepte von Derrida, Foucault und Luhmann, die eine Form von gesellschaftlicher Kommunikation zu denken erlauben, an der menschliche Subjekte zwar noch teilhaben, aber deren souveräne Urheber sie nicht mehr sind. (shrink)
Dirac's classical electrodynamics countenances "preaccelerations" of charged particles at a time t as mathematical functions of external forces applied after the time t. These preaccelerations have been interpreted as evidence for physical retrocausation upon assuming that, in electrodynamics no less than in Newton's second law, external forces sustain an asymmetric causal relation to accelerations. And this retrocausal interpretation has just been defended against the critiques in (Grunbaum 1976), (Grunbaum and Janis, 1977 and 1978) by appeal to the formal assimilation (...) of the electrodynamic laws of motion to Newton's second law. It is argued below that this latest defense of the retrocausal interpretation is even more ill-founded than the prior ones in the literature. (shrink)
In this revised and updated edition of a classic text, one of America's leading constitutional theorists presents a brief but well-balanced history of judicial review and summarizes the arguments both for and against judicial activism within the context of American democracy. Christopher Wolfe demonstrates how modern courts have used their power to create new "rights" with fateful political consequences and he challenges popular opinions held by many contemporary legal scholars. This is important reading for anyone interested in the role (...) of the judiciary within American politics. Praise for the first edition of Judicial Activism: "This is a splendid contribution to the literature, integrating for the first time between two covers an extensive debate, honestly and dispassionately presented, on the role of courts in American policy. —Stanley C. Brubaker, Colgate University. (shrink)
Table of contents for MONSTERS AND PHILOSOPHY, edited by Charles T. Wolfe (London 2005) -/- List of Contributors iii Acknowledgments vii List of Abbreviations ix -/- Introduction xi Charles T. Wolfe The Riddle of the Sphinx: Aristotle, Penelope, and 1 Empedocles Johannes Fritsche Science as a Cure for Fear: The Status of Monsters in 21 Lucretius Morgan Meis Nature and its Monsters During the Renaissance: 37 Montaigne and Vanini Tristan Dagron Conjoined Twins and the Limits of our Reason (...) 61 Annie Bitbol-Hespériès Degeneration and Hybridism in the Early Modern Species 109 Debate: Towards the Philosophical Roots of the Creation-Evolution Controversy Justin E. H. Smith Leibniz on the Unicorn and Various other Curiosities 131 Roger Ariew The Creativity of God and the Order of Nature: 153 Anatomizing Monsters in the Early Eighteenth Century Anita Guerrini The Status of Anomalies in the Philosophy of Diderot 169 Annie Ibrahim The Materialist Denial of Monsters 187 Charles T. Wolfe Cerebral Assymetry, Monstrosities and Hegel. 205 On the Situation of the Life Sciences in 1800 Michael Hagner The Lady Knight of the Perilous Place 217 Elfriede Jelinek Monster: More than a Word. . . From Portent to Anomaly, 231 the Extraordinary Career of Monsters Beate Ochsner Index 281 . (shrink)
In What Is Posthumanism? he carefully distinguishes posthumanism from transhumanism (the biotechnological enhancement of human beings) and narrow definitions of the posthuman as the hoped-for transcendence of materiality.
The concept of self has preeminently been asserted (in its many versions) as a core component of anti-reductionist, antinaturalistic philosophical positions, from Descartes to Husserl and beyond, with the exception of some hybrid or intermediate positions which declare rather glibly that, since we are biological entities which fully belong to the natural world, and we are conscious of ourselves as 'selves', therefore the self belongs to the natural world (this is characteristic e.g. of embodied phenomenology and enactivism). Nevertheless, from Cudworth (...) and More’s attacks on materialism all the way through twentieth-century argument against naturalism, the gulf between selfhood and the world of Nature appears unbridgeable. In contrast, my goal in this paper is to show that early modern materialism could yield a theory of the self according to which (1) the self belongs to the world of external relations (Spinoza), such that no one fact, including supposedly private facts, is only accessible to a single person; (2) the self can be reconstructed as a sense of “organic unity” which could be a condition for biological individuality (a central text here is Diderot’s 1769 Rêve de D’Alembert); yet this should not lead us to espouse a Romantic concept of organism as foundational or even ineffable subjectivity (a dimension present in Leibniz and made explicit in German idealism); (3) what we call 'self' might simply be a dynamic process of interpretive activity undertaken by the brain. This materialist theory of the self should not neglect the nature of experience, but it should also not have to take at face value the recurring invocations of a better, deeper “first-person perspective” or “first-person science.”. (shrink)
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 (...) here playing the role of a ‘booster’: it enables materialism to provide a full and rich account of the phenomena of conscious, sentient life, contrary to what its opponents hold: for if matter can sense, and sensibility is not a merely mechanical process, then the loftiest cognitive plateaus are accessible to materialist analysis, or at least belong to one and the same world as the rest of matter. This was noted by the astute anti-materialist critic, the Abbé Lelarge de Lignac, who, in his 1751 Lettres à un Amériquain, criticized Buffon for “granting to the body [la machine, a common term for the body at the time] a quality which is essential to minds, namely sensibility.” This view, here attributed to Buffon and definitely held by Diderot, was comparatively rare. If we look for the sources of this concept, the most notable ones are physiological and medical treatises by prominent figures such as Robert Whytt, Albrecht von Haller and the Montpellier vitalist Théophile de Bordeu. We then have, or so I shall try to sketch out, an intellectual landscape in which new – or newly articulated – properties such as irritability and sensibility are presented either as an experimental property of muscle fibers, that can be understood mechanistically (Hallerian irritability, as studied recently by Hubert Steinke and Dominique Boury) or a property of matter itself (whether specifically living matter as in Bordeu and his fellow montpelliérains Ménuret and Fouquet, or matter in general, as in Diderot). I am by no means convinced that it is one and the same ‘sensibility’ that is at issue in debates between these figures (as when Bordeu attacks Haller’s distinction between irritability and sensibility and claims that ‘his own’ property of sensibility is both more correct and more fundamental in organic beings), but I am interested in mapping out a topography of the problem of sensibility as property of matter or as vital force in mid-eighteenth-century debates – not an exhaustive cartography of all possible positions or theories, but an attempt to understand the ‘triangulation’ of three views: a vitalist view in which sensibility is fundamental, matching up with a conception of the organism as the sum of parts conceived as little lives (Bordeu et al.); a mechanist, or ‘enhanced mechanist’ view in which one can work upwards, step by step from the basic property of irritability to the higher-level property of sensibility (Haller); and, more eclectic, a materialist view which seeks to combine the mechanistic, componential rigour and explanatory power of the Hallerian approach, with the monistic and metaphysically explosive potential of the vitalist approach (Diderot). It is my hope that examining Diderot in the context of this triangulated topography of sensibility as property sheds light on his famous proclamation regarding sensibility as a universal property of matter. (shrink)
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 main (...) figure who introduced the work of Goldstein and his ‘phenomenology of embodiment’ into France. In this paper I inquire if we should view Canguilhem and Goldstein as ‘biochauvinists’, that is, as thinkers who consider that there is something inherently unique about biological entities as such, and if so, of what sort. (shrink)
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 (...) I aim to correct this inaccurate vision of materialism. On the contrary, the materialist project on closer consideration reveals itself to be, significantly if not exclusively, (a) a body of theories specifically focused on the contribution that ‘biology’ or rather ‘natural history’ and physiology make to metaphysical debates, (b) much more intimately connected to what we now call ‘vitalism’ (a case in point is the presence of Théophile de Bordeu, a prominent Montpellier physician and theorist of vitalism, as a fictional character and spokesman of materialism, in Diderot’s novel D’Alembert’s Dream), and ultimately (c) an anti-mechanistic doctrine which focuses on the unique properties of organic beings. To establish this revised vision of materialism I examine philosophical texts such as La Mettrie’s Man a Machine and Diderot’s D’Alembert’s Dream; medical entries in the Encyclopédie by physicians such as Ménuret and Fouquet; and clandestine combinations of all such sources (Fontenelle, Gaultier and others). (shrink)
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 (...) as dominant since the 17th century, whether in the case of Stahlian animism, Leibnizian monadology, the neo-vitalism of Hans Driesch, or, lastly, of the “phenomenology of organic life” in the 20th century, with authors such as Kurt Goldstein, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Georges Canguilhem. In this paper I try to reconstruct some of the main interpretive ‘stages’ or ‘layers’ of the concept of organism in order to critically evaluate it. How might ‘organism’ be a useful concept if one rules out the excesses of ‘organismic’ biology and metaphysics? Varieties of instrumentalism and what I call the ‘projective’ concept of organism are appealing, but perhaps ultimately unsatisfying. (shrink)
Our aim in this paper is to bring to light the importance of the notion of économie animale in Montpellier vitalism, as a hybrid concept which brings together the structural and functional dimensions of the living body – dimensions which hitherto had primarily been studied according to a mechanistic model, or were discussed within the framework of Stahlian animism. The celebrated image of the bee-swarm expresses this structural-functional understanding of living bodies quite well: “One sees them press against each other, (...) mutually supporting each other, forming a kind of whole, in which each living part, in its own way, by means of the correspondence and directions of its motions, enables this kind of life to be sustained in the body” (Encyclopédie, article “Observation,” by Ménuret de Chambaud). What is important here is that every component part is always a living part, i.e., every structural unit is always functional. Interestingly, while the twin notions of ‘animal economy’ and organisation are presented as improvements over a mechanistic perspective, they are nonetheless compatible with an expanded sense of mechanism and by extension, with materialism as reflected notably in the writings of Ménuret and Bordeu. We thus propose both a revision and reconstruction of the historical status of the ‘animal economy’, and a reflection on its conceptual status. (shrink)
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 (...) the body. I am interested here in something different: neither the metaphysical reading of Newton, nor direct empirical transpositions, but rather, a more heuristic, empiricist construction of Newtonian analogies. Figures such as Haller, Barthez, and Blumenbach constructed analogies between the method of celestial mechanics and the method of physiology. In celestial mechanics, they held, an unknown entity such as gravity is posited and used to mathematically link sets of determinate physical phenomena (e.g., the phases of the moon and tides). This process allows one to remain agnostic about the ontological status of the unknown entity, as long as the two linked sets of phenomena are represented adequately. Haller et. al. held that the Newtonian physician and physiologist can similarly posit an unknown called ‘life’ and use it to link various other phenomena, from digestion to sensation and the functioning of the glands. These phenomena consequently appear as interconnected, goal-oriented processes which do not exist either in an inanimate mechanism or in a corpse. In keeping with the empiricist roots of the analogy, however, no ontological claims are made about the nature of this vital principle, and no attempts are made to directly causally connect such a principle and observable phenomena. The role of the “Newtonian analogy” thus brings together diverse schools of thought, and cuts across a surprising variety of programs, models and practices in natural philosophy. (shrink)
ABSTRACTMaterialism is the view that everything that is real is material or is the product of material processes. It tends to take either a ‘cosmological’ form, as a claim about the ultimate nature of the world, or a more specific ‘psychological’ form, detailing how mental processes are brain processes. I focus on the second, psychological or cerebral form of materialism. In the mid-to-late eighteenth century, the French materialist philosopher Denis Diderot was one of the first to notice that any self-respecting (...) materialist had to address the question of the status and functional role of the brain, and its relation to our mental life. After this the topic grew stale, with knee-jerk reiterations of ‘psychophysical identity’ in the nineteenth-century, and equally rigid assertions of anti-materialism. In 1960s philosophy of mind, brain–mind materialism reemerged as ‘identity theory’, focusing on the identity between mental processes and cerebral processes. In contrast, Diderot’s cerebral materialism allows... (shrink)
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 (...) returned to Jacob’s statement with an odd kind of pathos: they were determined to reverse course. Not by imposing a different kind of research program in laboratories, but by an unusual combination of historical and philosophical inquiry into the foundations of the life sciences (particularly medicine, physiology and the cluster of activities that were termed ‘biology’ in the early 1800s). Even in as straightforwardly scholarly a work as La formation du concept de réflexe aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles (1955), Canguilhem speaks oddly of “defending vitalist biology,” and declares that Life cannot be grasped by logic (or at least, “la vie déconcerte la logique”). Was all this historical and philosophical work merely a reassertion of ‘mysterian’, magical vitalism? In order to answer this question we need to achieve some perspective on Canguilhem’s ‘vitalism’, notably with respect to its philosophical influences such as Kurt Goldstein. (shrink)
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 (...) the ligature experiment in De Motu Cordis), tends to dismiss the value of instruments such as the microscope, and emphasizes instead the privileged status of ‘observed experience’. To use a contemporary term, Harvey appears to rely on, and chiefly value, ‘tacit knowledge’. Secondly, Locke’s project is often explained with reference to the image he uses in the Epistle to the Reader of his Essay, that he was an “underlabourer” of the sciences. In fact, despite the significant medical phase of his career, Locke’s ‘empiricism’ turns out to be above all a practical (i.e. ‘moral’) project, which focuses on the delimitation of our powers in order to achieve happiness, and rejects the possibility of naturalizing knowledge. When combined, these two cases suggest a different view of some canonical moments in early modern natural philosophy. (shrink)
In this essay I seek to critically evaluate some forms of holism and organicism in biological thought, as a more deflationary echo to Gilbert and Sarkar's reflection on the need for an 'umbrella' concept to convey the new vitality of holistic concepts in biology (Gilbert and Sarkar 2000). Given that some recent discussions in theoretical biology call for an organism concept (from Moreno and Mossio’s work on organization to Kirschner et al.’s research paper in Cell, 2000, building on chemistry to (...) articulate what they called “molecular vitalism,” studying the “vitalistic” properties of molecular, cellular, and organismal function, and Pepper and Herron’s suggestion in their 2008 paper that organisms define a category that evolutionary biology cannot do without), the question, what concept of organicism are they calling for? To what extent are such claims philosophically committed to a non-naturalistic concept of organism as organizing centre, as a foundational rather than heuristic concept – or possibly a “biochauvinism,” to use Di Paolo’s term (Di Paolo 2009)? My aim in this paper is to conceptually clarify the forms of holism and organicism that are involved in these cases (and I acknowledge that the study of early 20th-century holisms [Peterson 2010] indicates that not all of them were in fact ‘organicist’ or ‘biologistic’). I suggest that contemporary holists are still potentially beholden to a certain kind of vitalism or “biochauvinism”; but that when they reduce their claims to mere heuristics, conversely, they risk losing sight of a certain kind of organizational “thickness”, a “vital materiality” (Wheeler 2010) which is characteristic of biological systems (Bechtel 2007). And I ask if it is possible to articulate a concept of biological holism or organicism which is neither an empirical ‘biochauvinism’ nor a metaphysical ‘vitalism’? (shrink)
Intellectual history still quite commonly distinguishes between the episode we know as the Scientific Revolution, and its successor era, the Enlightenment, in terms of the calculatory and quantifying zeal of the former—the age of mechanics—and the rather scientifically lackadaisical mood of the latter, more concerned with freedom, public space and aesthetics. It is possible to challenge this distinction in a variety of ways, but the approach I examine here, in which the focus on an emerging scientific field or cluster of (...) disciplines—the ‘life sciences’, particularly natural history, medicine, and physiology —is, not Romantically anti-scientific, but resolutely anti-mathematical. Diderot bluntly states, in his Thoughts on the interpretation of nature, that “We are on the verge of a great revolution in the sciences. Given the taste people seem to have for morals, belles-lettres, the history of nature and experimental physics, I dare say that before a hundred years, there will not be more than three great geometricians remaining in Europe. The science will stop short where the Bernoullis, the Eulers, the Maupertuis, the Clairauts, the Fontaines and the D’Alemberts will have left it.... We will not go beyond.” Similarly, Buffon in the first discourse of his Histoire naturelle speaks of the “over-reliance on mathematical sciences,” given that mathematical truths are merely “definitional” and “demonstrative,” and thereby “abstract, intellectual and arbitrary.” Earlier in the Thoughts, Diderot judges “the thing of the mathematician” to have “as little existence in nature as that of the gambler.” Significantly, this attitude—taken by great scientists who also translated Newton or wrote careful papers on probability theory, as well as by others such as Mandeville—participates in the effort to conceptualize what we might call a new ontology for the emerging life sciences, very different from both the ‘iatromechanism’ and the ‘animism’ of earlier generations, which either failed to account for specifically living, goal-directed features of organisms, or accounted for them in supernaturalistic terms by appealing to an ‘anima’ as explanatory principle. Anti-mathematicism here is then a key component of a naturalistic, open-ended project to give a successful reductionist model of explanation in ‘natural history’, a model which is no more vitalist than it is materialist—but which is fairly far removed from early modern mechanism. (shrink)
This paper analyses the opposing accounts of ‘the ordinary’ given by Jacques Derrida and Stanley Cavell, beginning with their competing interpretations of J. L. Austin¹s thought on ordinary language. These accounts are presented as mutually critiquing: Derrida¹s deconstructive method poses an effective challenge to Cavell¹s claim that the ordinary is irreducible by further philosophical analysis, while, conversely, Cavell¹s valorisation of the human draws attention to a residual humanity in Derrida¹s text which Derrida cannot account for. The two philosophers’ approaches are, (...) in fact, predicated on each other like the famous Gestalt-image of a vase and two faces: they cannot come into focus at the same time, but one cannot appear without the other to furnish its background. (shrink)
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 (...) Montpellier school (Bordeu, Ménuret, Fouquet) as functional rather than substantival vitalists, and suggest an additional point regarding the reprisal of vitalism(s) in the 20th century, from Driesch to Canguilhem: that in addition to the substantival and functional varieties, we encounter a third species of vitalism, which I term ‘attitudinal’, as it argues for vitalism as a kind of attitude. (shrink)
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. (...) But what about materialism? Well, beginning with the anatomical interest into ‘monstrous births’ in the French Académie des Sciences in the first three decades of the eighteenth century, there is a shift away from ‘imaginationist’ claims such as those of Malebranche, that if a woman gives birth to a monstrous child it is a consequence of something she imagined. Anatomists such as Lemery and Winslow try to formulate a strictly mechanical explanation for such events, rejecting moral and metaphysical explanations. Picking up on this work, materialist thinkers like Diderot are compelled to reject the very idea of monsters. We are all material beings produced according to the same mechanisms or laws, some of us are more ‘successful’ products than others, i.e. some live longer than others. In his late Eléments de physiologie he says “L’homme est un effet commun, le monstre un effet rare.” Ultimately he arrives at a materialist version of Leibniz’s position: there are no monsters, we are all monsters in each other’s eyes, at one time or another. This conclusion is a pregnant one in light of twentieth century interest in the problem of ‘the normal and the pathological’ (Canguilhem), and the broader question of how materialism relates to the biological world. (shrink)
Well prior to the invention of the term ‘biology’ in the early 1800s by Lamarck and Treviranus, and also prior to the appearance of terms such as ‘organism’ under the pen of Leibniz in the early 1700s, the question of ‘Life’, that is, the status of living organisms within the broader physico-mechanical universe, agitated different corners of the European intellectual scene. From modern Epicureanism to medical Newtonianism, from Stahlian animism to the discourse on the ‘animal economy’ in vitalist medicine, models (...) of living being were constructed in opposition to ‘merely anatomical’, structural, mechanical models. It is therefore curious to turn to the ‘passion play’ of the Scientific Revolution – whether in its early, canonical definitions or its more recent, hybridized, reconstructed and expanded versions: from Koyré to Biagioli, from Merton to Shapin – and find there a conspicuous absence of worry over what status to grant living beings in a newly physicalized universe. Neither Harvey, nor Boyle, nor Locke (to name some likely candidates, the latter having studied with Willis and collaborated with Sydenham) ever ask what makes organisms unique, or conversely, what does not. In this paper I seek to establish how ‘Life’ became a source of contention in early modern thought, and how the Scientific Revolution missed the controversy. (shrink)
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, (...) but conversely has also been the target of influential rejections: as just an instrument of transmission for the selfish gene, but also, historiographically, as part of an outdated ‘vitalism’. Indeed, the organism, perhaps because it is experientially closer to the ‘body’ than to the ‘molecule’, is often the object of quasi-affective theoretical investments presenting it as essential, sometimes even as the pivot of a science or a particular approach to nature, while other approaches reject or attack it with equal force, assimilating it to a mysterious ‘vitalist’ ontology of extra-causal forces, or other pseudo-scientific doctrines. This paper does not seek to adjudicate between these debates, either in terms of scientific validity or historical coherence; nor does it return to the well-studied issue of the organism-mechanism tension in biology. Recent scholarship has begun to focus on the emergence and transformation of the concept of organism, but has not emphasized so much the way in which organism is a shifting, ‘go-between’ concept – invoked as ‘natural’ by some thinkers to justify their metaphysics, but then presented as value-laden by others, over and against the natural world. The organism as go-between concept is also a hybrid, a boundary concept or an epistemic limit case, all of which partly overlap with the idea of ‘nomadic concepts’. Thereby the concept of organism continues to function in different contexts – as a heuristic, an explanatory challenge, a model of order, of regulation, etc. – despite having frequently been pronounced irrelevant and reduced to molecules or genes. Yet this perpetuation is far removed from any ‘metaphysics of organism’, or organismic biology. (shrink)
In his first paper on the special theory of relativity, Einstein indicated that the question of whether or not two spatially separated events were simultaneous did not necessarily have a definite answer, but instead depended on the adoption of a convention for its resolution. Some later writers have argued that Einstein's choice of a convention is, in fact, the only possible choice within the framework of special relativistic physics, while others have maintained that alternative choices, although perhaps less convenient, are (...) indeed possible. (shrink)
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 (...) and the holism-reductionism pair (at multiple levels, ontological and methodological, pertaining to the vision of scientific practice as well as to the foundations of a vision of Nature, implicit or explicit) allows the theorist to shed some new light on these perennial tensions in the conceptualisation of Life. (shrink)