Though it did not yet exist as a discrete field of scientific inquiry, biology was at the heart of many of the most important debates in seventeenth-century philosophy. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the work of G. W. Leibniz. In Divine Machines, Justin Smith offers the first in-depth examination of Leibniz's deep and complex engagement with the empirical life sciences of his day, in areas as diverse as medicine, physiology, taxonomy, generation theory, and paleontology. He shows how these (...) wide-ranging pursuits were not only central to Leibniz's philosophical interests, but often provided the insights that led to some of his best-known philosophical doctrines.Presenting the clearest picture yet of the scope of Leibniz's theoretical interest in the life sciences, Divine Machines takes seriously the philosopher's own repeated claims that the world must be understood in fundamentally biological terms. Here Smith reveals a thinker who was immersed in the sciences of life, and looked to the living world for answers to vexing metaphysical problems. He casts Leibniz's philosophy in an entirely new light, demonstrating how it radically departed from the prevailing models of mechanical philosophy and had an enduring influence on the history and development of the life sciences. Along the way, Smith provides a fascinating glimpse into early modern debates about the nature and origins of organic life, and into how philosophers such as Leibniz engaged with the scientific dilemmas of their era. (shrink)
Upshot: In our response we focus on five questions that point to important common themes in the commentaries: why start in wicked problems, what kind of system is a scientific perspective, what is the nature of second-order research processes, what does this mean for understanding interdisciplinary work, and how may polyocular research help make real-world decisions.
This volume collects contributions from leading scholars of early modern philosophy from a wide variety of philosophical and geographic backgrounds. The distinguished contributors offer very different, competing approaches to the history of philosophy.
Open peer commentary on the article “Social Autopoiesis?” by Hugo Urrestarazu. Upshot: We agree on the need to explore a concept of social autopoiesis that goes beyond a strictly human-centered concept of social systems as autopoietic communicative systems. But both Hugo Urrestarazu and Niklas Luhmann neglect the importance of semiosis in understanding communication, and this has important implications for the question of a more general approach to social systems.
This volume explores the intersection between early modern philosophy and the life sciences by presenting the contributions of important but often neglected figures such as Cudworth, Grew, Glisson, Hieronymus Fabricius, Stahl, Gallego, Hartsoeker, and More, as well as familiar figures such as Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Malebranche, and Kant.
In the fourth section of Goethe’s Zahme Xenien we find the quatrain from which I have taken the theme of such an old and new controversy, which, as I hope, concerns both Germanic studies and the other humanities: “What was it that kept you from us so apart?” I always read Plutarch again and again. “And what was the lesson he did impart?” “They were all human beings—so much is plain.”1 In the very years when Goethe wrote these lines, that (...) is in the 1820s, Hegel repeatedly gave his lectures on the philosophy of history. Right at the beginning he formulated the opposite view which I should like briefly to characterize as “cultural relativism.”Every age has such peculiar circumstances, such individual conditions that it must be interpreted, and can only be interpreted, by reference to itself…. Nothing is shallower in this respect than the frequent appeal to Greek and Roman example which so often occurred among the French at the time of their Revolution. Nothing could be more different than the nature of these peoples and the nature of our own times.2 What is at issue here is not, of course, Hegel’s assertion that ages and peoples differ from each other. We all know that, and Goethe, the attentive reader and traveler, also knew, for instance, that the Roman carnival differed in its character from the celebrations of the Feast of Saint Rochus at Bingen, both of which he had described so lovingly. What makes the cultural historian into a cultural relativist is only the conclusion which we saw Hegel draw, that cultures and styles of life are not only different but wholly incommensurable, in other words that it is absurd to compare the peoples of a region or an age with human beings of other zones because there is no common denominator that would justify us in doing so. 1. ‘Was hat dich nun von uns entfernt?’ Hab immer den Plutarch gelesen. ‘Was has du den dabei gelernt?’ Sind eben alles Menschen gewesen.’ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Sämtlich Werke. Jubiläums-ausgabe in 40 Bänden 4:73; with commentary.2. See Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Vorselungen über die Philosophie der Geschichte, Werke, 20 vols. , 12:17. E. H. Gombrich was director of the Warburg Institute and Professor of the History of the Classical Tradition at the University of London from 1959 to 1976. His many influential works include The Story of Art, Art and Illusion, Meditations on a Hobby Horse, The Sense of Order, Ideals and Idols, The Image and the Eye, Tributes, Aby Warburg, and New Light on Old Masters. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry include “The Museum: Past, Present and Future” , “Standards of Truth: The Arrested Image and the Moving Eye” , and “Representation and Misrepresentation”. (shrink)
To the historian of art, it is evident that the two authors’ notion of ‘art’ is of very recent date, and not shared by everybody. They claim: ‘The purpose of art, surely, is not merely to depict or represent reality -- for that can be accomplished very easily with a camera -- but to enhance, transcend, or even to distort reality’ . They do not explain how one could photograph Paradise or Hell, the Creation of the World, the Passion of (...) Christ, or the escapades of the ancient gods -- all subjects that can be found represented in our museums. Nor is it more legitimate to generalize from certain Indian conventions of representing the female nude than it is for the academic tradition to take the Venus de Medici for the same purpose. Even a fleeting visit to one of the great museums might serve to convince the authors that few of the exhibits conform to the laws of art they postulate. [followed by response from V.S. Ramachandran]. (shrink)