Cet ouvrage collectif, qui résulte en partie des travaux d’un atelier sur l’empirisme incarné dans la science moderne qui s’est tenu à l’université de Sydney en février 2009, rassemble quinze communications regroupées en trois parties : « The Body as Object », « The Body as Instrument », « Embodies Minds ». L’objectif des auteurs est de corriger la conception dominante que se font les historiens des sciences et de la philosophie de l’émergence de la philosophie expérimentale, et de l’empirism..
Getting physical: Empiricism’s medical History Content Type Journal Article DOI 10.1007/s11016-010-9474-4 Authors John Gascoigne, School of History and Philosophy, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2056, Australia Journal Metascience Online ISSN 1467-9981 Print ISSN 0815-0796.
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 .
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)
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 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)
Wolf land is in the context of the present article to be considered as an ambiguous term referring to “the land of the wolf” from the wolf’s perspective as well as from a human perspective. I start out by presenting the general circumstances of the Scandinavian wolf population, then turn to the Norwegian wolf controversy in particular. The latter half of the article consists of an elucidation of current wolf ecology related to what is here termed wolf land, and a (...) concluding comment to the now controversial notion of wilderness. The final section of this article further includes identification of changing factors in current Scandinavian wolf ecology in terms of its semiotic niche, and ontological niche, respectively. (shrink)
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 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)
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 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 (...) to render free will and determinism compatible. By emphasizing the hedonistic dimension of his argument, according to which we are determined by “the most pressing uneasiness” we feel, I show how a deterministic reading is possible. This was seen by Locke’s favorite and also most radical disciple, the deist Anthony Collins, whose treatise A Philosophical Inquiry Concerning Human Liberty (1717) is both a critique of Essay II.xxi and a radicalization of its contents. I argue that Collins articulated a form of determinism which recognizes the specificity of action, thanks in large part to the uniquely ‘volitional’ determinism suggested by Locke. (shrink)
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 (...) Marx and Engels and later restated as standard, ‘textbook’ history of philosophy in the English-speaking world. It portrays materialism as explicitly mechanistic, seeking to reduce the world of qualities, sensations, and purposive behaviour to a quantitative, usually deterministic physical scheme. Building on some recent scholarship, I aim to articulate the contrarian view according to which neither of these stories is true. On the contrary, empiricism turns out to be less ‘science-friendly’ and more concerned with moral matters; materialism reveals itself to be, in at least a large number of cases, a ‘vital’, anti-mechanistic doctrine which focuses on the unique properties of organic beings. This revision of two key philosophical episodes should reveal that our history of early modern philosophy is dependent to a great extent on ‘special interests’, whether positivistic or Kantian, and by extension lead us to rethink the relation and distinction between ‘science’ and ‘philosophy’ in this period. (shrink)
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, (...) Diderot articulates a very similar determinism, which seeks to recognize the existence of “causes proper to man” (as he says in the Réfutation d’Helvétius). The difference with Collins is that now biological factors are being taken into account. Obviously both the ‘volitional’ and the ‘biological’ forms of determinism are noteworthy inasmuch as they change our picture of the nature of determinism itself, but my interest here is to compare these two determinist arguments, both of which are broadly Spinozist in nature – and as such belong to what Jonathan Israel called in his recent book “the radical Enlightenment,” i.e. a kind of underground Enlightenment constituted by Spinozism – and to see how Collins’ specifically psychological vision and Diderot’s specifically biological vision correspond to their two separate national contexts: determinism in France in the mid-1750s was a much more medico-biological affair than English determinism, which appears to be on a ‘path’ leading to Mill and associationist psychology. (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)
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)
Vitalism was long viewed as the most grotesque view in biological theory: appeals to a mysterious life-force, Romantic insistence on the autonomy of life, or worse, a metaphysics of an entirely living universe. In the early twentieth century, attempts were made to present a revised, lighter version that was not weighted down by revisionary metaphysics: “organicism”. And mainstream philosophers of science criticized Driesch and Bergson’s “neovitalism” as a too-strong ontological commitment to the existence of certain entities or “forces”, over and (...) above the system of causal relations studied by mechanistic science, rejecting the weaker form, organicism, as well. But there has been some significant scholarly “push-back” against this orthodox attitude, notably pointing to the 18th-century Montpellier vitalists to show that there are different historical forms of vitalism, including how they relate to mainstream scientific practice. Additionally, some trends in recent biology that run counter to genetic reductionism and the informational model of the gene present themselves as organicist. Here, we examine some cases of vitalism in the twentieth century and today, not just as a historical form but as a significant metaphysical and scientific model. We argue for vitalism’s conceptual originality without either reducing it to mainstream models of science or presenting it as an alternate model of science, by focusing on historical forms of vitalism, logical empiricist critiques thereof and the impact of synthetic biology on current theorizing of vitalism. (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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
Patients in a vegetative state/ unresponsive wakefulness syndrome pose ethical dilemmas to those involved. Many conflicts occur between professionals and families of these patients. In the Netherlands physicians are supposed to withdraw life sustaining treatment once recovery is not to be expected. Yet these patients have shown to survive sometimes for decades. The role of the families is thought to be important. The aim of this study was to make an inventory of the professional perspective on conflicts in long-term care (...) of patients in VS/UWS. A qualitative study of transcripts on 2 Moral Deliberations in 2 cases of patients in VS/UWS in long-term care facilities. Six themes emerged: 1) Vision on VS/UWS; 2) Treatment and care plan; 3) Impact on relationships; 4) Feelings/attitude; 5) Communication; 6) Organizational aspects. These themes are related to professionals and to what families had expressed to the professionals. We found conflicts as well as contradictory feelings and thoughts to be a general feature in 4 of these themes, both in professionals and families. Conflicts were found in several actors: within families concerning all 6 themes, in nurse teams concerning the theme treatment and care plan, and between physicians concerning all 6 themes. Different visions, different expectations and hope on recovery, deviating goals and contradictory feelings/thoughts in families and professionals can lead to conflicts over a patient with VS/UWS. Key factors to prevent or solve such conflicts are a carefully established diagnosis, clarity upon visions, uniformity in treatment goals and plans, an open and empathic communication, expertise and understanding the importance of contradictory feelings/thoughts. Management should bridge conflicts and support their staff, by developing expertise, by creating stability and by facilitating medical ethical discourses. Shared compassion for the patient might be a key to gain trust and bridge the differences from non-shared to shared decision making. (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)
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 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 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 this paper, we reflect on the connection between the notions of organism and organisation, with a specific interest in how this bears upon the issue of the reality of the organism. We do this by presenting the case of Buffon, who developed complex views about the relation between the notions of “organised” and “organic” matter. We argue that, contrary to what some interpreters have suggested, these notions are not orthogonal in his thought. Also, we argue that Buffon has a (...) view in which organisation is not just ubiquitous, but basic and fundamental in nature, and hence also fully natural. We suggest that he can hold this view because of his anti-mathematicism. Buffon’s case is interesting, in our view, because he can regard organisation, and organisms, as perfectly natural, and can admit their reality without invoking problematic supernaturalist views, and because he allows organisation and the organismal to come in kinds and degrees. Thus, his view tries to do justice to two cautionary notes for the debate on the reality of the organism: the need for a commitment to a broadly naturalist perspective, and the need to acknowledge the interesting features of organisms through which we make sense of them. (shrink)
Human genomics is a translational field spanning research, clinical care, public health, and direct-to-consumer testing. However, law differs across these domains on issues including liability, consent, promoting quality of analysis and interpretation, and safeguarding privacy. Genomic activities crossing domains can thus encounter confusion and conflicts among these approaches. This paper suggests how to resolve these conflicts while protecting the rights and interests of individuals sequenced. Translational genomics requires this more translational approach to law.
This book provides an overview of key features of (philosophical) materialism, in historical perspective. It is, thus, a study in the history and philosophy of materialism, with a particular focus on the early modern and Enlightenment periods, leading into the 19th and 20th centuries. For it was in the 18th century that the word was first used by a philosopher (La Mettrie) to refer to himself. Prior to that, ‘materialism’ was a pejorative term, used for wicked thinkers, as a near-synonym (...) to ‘atheist’, ‘Spinozist’ or the delightful ‘Hobbist’. The book provides the different forms of materialism, particularly distinguished into claims about the material nature of the world and about the material nature of the mind, and then focus on materialist approaches to body and embodiment, selfhood, ethics, laws of nature, reductionism and determinism, and overall, its relationship to science. For materialism is often understood as a kind of philosophical facilitator of the sciences, and the author want to suggest that is not always the case. Materialism takes on different forms and guises in different historical, ideological and scientific contexts as well, and the author wants to do justice to that diversity. Figures discussed include Lucretius, Hobbes, Gassendi, Spinoza, Toland, Collins, La Mettrie, Diderot, d’Holbach and Priestley; Büchner, Bergson, J.J.C. Smart and D.M. Armstrong. (shrink)