3,003 research outputs found

    Do organisms have an ontological status?

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    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

    Canguilhem and the logic of life

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    In this paper we examine aspects of Canguilhem’s philosophy of biology, concerning the knowledge of life and its consequences on science and vitalism. His concept of life stems from the idea of a living individual, endowed with creative subjectivity and norms, a Kantian view which “disconcerts logic”. In contrast, two different approaches ground naturalistic perspectives to explore the logic of life (Jacob) and the logic of the living individual (Maturana and Varela) in the 1970s. Although Canguilhem is closer to the second, there are divergences; for example, unlike them, he does not dismiss vitalism, often referring to it in his work and even at times describing himself as a vitalist. The reason may lie in their different views of science

    Le cerveau est un « livre qui se lit lui-mĂȘme ». Diderot, la plasticitĂ© et le matĂ©rialisme.

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    National audienceMaterialism is the view that everything that is real, is material or is the product of material processes. This tends to take either of two forms: a more ‘cosmological’ claim about the ultimate nature of the world, and a more specific claim about how what is mental is really in fact cerebral – how mental processes are brain processes. In the twentieth century, the predominant science in this context was physics: materialism became synonymous with ‘physicalism’; the entities that were considered to be real were those described in the physics of the time. Here I shall not be concerned with the relations between materialism and physics, but instead with the second species of materialism: claims about minds and brains. Diderot was one of the first thinkers to notice that any self-respecting materialist had to address the question of what brains do, and how much of our mental, affective, intellectual life is contained therein. After this the topic grew stale, with repeated reiterations of ‘psychophysical identity’ notably by German scientists in the nineteenth century and more complex versions thereof in twentieth-century ‘identity theory’. If we contrast Diderot’s materialism with these other cases, several notable features emerge, chiefly that Diderot allows for a much more culturally saturated or sedimented sense of the brain, which he describes as a book – “except it is a book which reads itself”.Le cerveau est un « livre qui se lit lui-mĂȘme ». Diderot, la plasticitĂ© et le matĂ©rialisme. MatĂ©rialisme, cerveaux et discontinuitĂ© Y at -il une approche matĂ©rialiste du cerveau, ou plusieurs, et dans le second cas, oĂč situer la position de Diderot ? Remarquons tout de suite, Ă  la suite de GĂŒnther Mensching, que le matĂ©rialisme ne procĂšde pas par « un enchaĂźnement de doctrines transmises et modifiĂ©es de gĂ©nĂ©ration en gĂ©nĂ©ration 1 » ; au contraire, s'il est une tradition, elle est de nature « discontinue 2 », puisque chaque Ă©poque est obligĂ©e de refonder une forme de matĂ©rialisme sur des bases neuves : Ă  partir de la thĂ©ologie elle-mĂȘme, au moyen d'Ă©lĂ©ments aristotĂ©liciens et averroĂŻstes, puis de l'histoire naturelle et des dĂ©buts de la « biologie », au XVIII e siĂšcle ; de la biochimie au XIX e siĂšcle, la physique durant la premiĂšre moitiĂ© du XX e siĂšcle et, plus rĂ©cem-ment, suivant une inspiration venue des neurosciences. On peut aussi rĂ©sumer cette diversitĂ© de formes, d'articulations et d'« assises » scientifiques par une distinction entre deux types de projets matĂ©rialistes, A et B : A: l'univers dans son essence est matĂ©riel. D'Holbach, par exemple, affirme que « L'univers, ce vaste ensemble de tout ce qui existe, ne nous offre partout que de la matiĂšre et du mouvement 3). On peut considĂ©rer cette forme de matĂ©rialisme comme Ă  la fois ancienne (l'atomisme) et renouvelĂ©e sous des formes physicalistes modernes, avec l'essor de la physique.Le matĂ©rialisme se prĂ©sente habituellement, soit comme une thĂšse concernant la nature du monde mĂȘme, notamment physique, soit une thĂšse concernant le rapport entre le cerveau et l’esprit. Au XXe siĂšcle, il devient synonyme de « physicalisme » : ce qui est rĂ©el, ce sont les entitĂ©s et processus dĂ©crites par la physique actuelle (une ontologie modifiable, donc, suivant les Ă©volutions scientifiques). Ce rapport entre le physicalisme et les rapports cerveau-esprit demeure flou, mĂȘme dans un contexte nourri par les nouvelles disciplines « cognitives » y compris la neurophilosophie. Or, le premier philosophe Ă  avoir explicitement saisi que le matĂ©rialisme, a fortiori s’il veut saisir la richesse de notre activitĂ© symbolique, doit se prĂ©occuper du statut particulier du cerveau, des dimensions « cĂ©rĂ©brales » de notre vie affective, mentale et intellectuelle, fut Diderot. AprĂšs Diderot, les « matĂ©rialistes vulgaires » puis les thĂ©oriciens matĂ©rialistes de l’ « identitĂ© » aux XIXe-XXe siĂšcles ont tendance Ă  appauvrir ce matĂ©rialisme incarnĂ© oĂč notre dimension corporelle et psychologique est centrale, alors que la vision diderotienne des rapports cerveau-esprit ou mĂȘme cerveau-culture tend crucialement Ă  accentuer la plasticitĂ© cĂ©rĂ©brale, voire mĂȘme la plasticitĂ© « culturelle » du cerveau - Ă  contre-courant des formes de matĂ©rialisme postĂ©rieures. Sans faire de Diderot un prĂ©dĂ©cesseur d’une science non-existante Ă  son Ă©poque, ou un rĂ©volutionnaire conceptuel qui conviendrait Ă  notre univers de la complexitĂ© (Ă  la Prigogine et Stengers), je rĂ©Ă©value le rapport de son matĂ©rialisme Ă  la neurophilosophie contemporaine, et la prĂ©sence (possible) d’une neurophilosophie, certes programmatique, chez Diderot lui-mĂȘme

    ÉlĂ©ments pour une thĂ©orie matĂ©rialiste du soi

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    International audienceOn tentera ici de prĂ©senter une thĂ©orie matĂ©rialiste du soi selon laquelle (1) le soi appartient au monde des rapports extĂ©rieurs : « pour un matĂ©rialiste, aucun fait n’est accessible qu’à une seule personne » ; (2) le soi pourrait ĂȘtre compris en tant que « sentiment d’unitĂ© organique », dans une vision biologique de l’individualitĂ© ; (3) son « identitĂ© personnelle » s’exprime en tant que rapport dĂ©fini d’une quantitĂ© de mouvement et de repos, et (4) ĂȘtre soi-mĂȘme en tant que « soi » est une activitĂ© dynamique d’interprĂ©tation au sein d’un « monde », cela pourrait n’ĂȘtre rien d’autre qu’ĂȘtre un cerveau. Enfin (5) on examinera quelques objections classiques Ă  cette thĂ©orie, autour de l’expĂ©rience, et on proposera une conclusion

    Eléments pour une théorie matérialiste du soi

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    The concept of self has preeminently been asserted (in its many versions) by anti-reductionist, anti-naturalistic 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 (Merleau-Ponty, Varela). My goal in this paper is to argue for 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," partly analogous to what has been described as "biological individuality" (from Diderot to Goldstein, Canguilhem, Simondon); yet this should not lead us to espouse a Romantic concept of organism (3) what we call 'self' might simply be a dynamic process of interpretive activity within a "world," 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." As Althusser said, the materialist philosopher is the person who catches the train already in motion; the world is more fundamental than the thinker

    L'organisme: concept hybride et polémique

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    L’organisme n’est ni une dĂ©couverte comme la circulation du sang ou la fonction glycogĂ©nique du foie, ni une thĂ©orie biologique particuliĂšre comme l’épigenĂšse ou le prĂ©formationnisme. Il s’agit d’un concept qui joue une sĂ©rie de rĂŽles, parfois explicites, parfois masquĂ©s au sein de l’histoire de la biologie. De fait, il a parfois Ă©tĂ© prĂ©sentĂ© comme un concept-clĂ© dans la pensĂ©e et la science du vivant (au sens oĂč la biologie serait une science des organismes ou « ne sera pas »), pour ĂȘtre ensuite refusĂ© ou « rĂ©futĂ© » par d’autres Ă©coles ou mouvements de pensĂ©e, Ă  l’instar d’un Richard Dawkins affirmant que nous ne sommes que les instruments de transmission du « gĂšne Ă©goĂŻste » (selfish gene). La situation est compliquĂ©e par le fait que l’organisme, peut-ĂȘtre parce qu’il est plus proche du « corps » que de la « molĂ©cule » (faisant abstraction de l’émergence relativement rĂ©cente de figures comme l’organisme « modĂšle ») est souvent l’objet d’investissements thĂ©oriques quasi-affectifs qui le prĂ©sentent comme essentiel, peut-ĂȘtre mĂȘme comme le pivot d’une science ou d’une approche scientifique particuliĂšre. D’autres approches le rejettent, l’ignorent, voire l’attaquent avec un dynamisme Ă©gal, en l’assimilant Ă  un quelconque « vitalisme » ou autre doctrine prĂ©sentĂ©e comme Ă©tant prĂ©- ou pseudo-scientifique (Francis Crick, qui partagea le prix Nobel avec James Watson pour la dĂ©couverte de l’ADN, dĂ©clara : « Ă  ceux d’entre vous qui seraient vitalistes, je fais ce pronostic : ce que tout le monde croyait hier, et que vous croyez aujourd’hui, demain seuls les illuminĂ©s (cranks) le croiront » [Crick 1966, 99])

    "Cabinet d'histoire naturelle," or: The interplay of nature and artifice in Diderot's naturalism

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    In selected texts by Diderot, including the EncyclopĂ©die article “Cabinet d'histoire naturelle” (along with his comments in the article “Histoire naturelle”), the PensĂ©es sur l'interprĂ©tation de la nature and the Salon de 1767, I examine the interplay between philosophical naturalism and the recognition of the irreducible nature of artifice, in order to arrive at a provisional definition of Diderot's vision of Nature as “une femme qui aime Ă  se travestir.” How can a metaphysics in which the concept of Nature has a normative status, also ultimately consider it to be something necessarily artificial? Historically, the answer to this question involves the project of natural history. A present-day reconstruction would have to make sense of this project and relate it to the vision of Nature expressed in Diderot's phrase. In addition, it would hopefully pinpoint the difference between this brand of Enlightenment naturalism and contemporary naturalism, and by extension, allow us to understand a bit more about what naturalism is in general.In selected texts by Diderot, including the EncyclopĂ©die article "Cabinet d'histoire naturelle" (along with his comments in the article "Histoire naturelle"), the PensĂ©es sur l'interprĂ©tation de la nature and the Salon de 1767, I examine the interplay between philosophical naturalism and the recognition of the irreducible nature of artifice, in order to arrive at a provisional definition of Diderot's vision of Nature as "une femme qui aime Ă  se travestir." How can a metaphysics in which the concept of Nature has a normative status, also ultimately consider it to be something necessarily artificial? Historically, the answer to this question involves the project of natural history. A present-day reconstruction would have to make sense of this project and relate it to the vision of Nature expressed in Diderot's phrase. In addition, it would hopefully pinpoint the difference between this brand of Enlightenment naturalism and contemporary naturalism, and by extension, allow us to understand a bit more about what naturalism is in general. © 2009 by The Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    Smithian vitalism?

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    I am not a scholar of Smith, but a scholar of vitalism. In seeking to connect the two themes, it turns out that some recent literature dealing partly with Smith makes this connection, unsuccessfully in my view. Vitalism is used carelessly. However, Schliesser’s work is an indication of how certain issues in ‘substance and property’ relations, including of the Newtonian sort, can be expanded in a vitalistic direction

    'The Brain Is a Book Which Reads Itself': Cultured Brains and Reductive Materialism from Diderot to J. J. C. Smart

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    Materialist philosophers claim that everything real, is somehow material inasmuch as it belongs to the physical, ‘spacetime’ world of causes and effects, from microbes to volcanoes, from tables and chairs to paintings and love letters. In modern times (starting in the Enlightenment and reaching full velocity in the twentieth century, notably with the adopted Australian philosopher J.J.C. Smart) materialists have specifically been interested in the particular ‘region’ of minds and brains. That is, from a general metaphysical position on how we belong to the material universe, materialism focused on the particular case of how our minds would be material in the sense of being brains, i.e., how mental states are brain states. In what follows I will focus on this status of the brain as a problem or starting-point for materialists, while also maintaining a certain idea of ‘discontinuity’ regarding different attitudes towards the brain
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