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The Concept of Individuality in Canguilhem's Philosophy of Biology
UniversiteParis 7-Denis Diderot 2 place Jussieu 75251 Paris, France
Although he did not write many books and although he wrote on a limited range of subjects, Georges Canguilhem (1904-1996) is without doubt one of the most influential figures in French intellectual history in the second half of the twentieth century.His influence has been particularlyimportant among philosophers, historians of science, and physicians. For the French learnedpublic, it is almost impossible to dissociate the three main aspects of Canguilhem'sintellectualactivity:medical philosophy,the historyof biology, and the philosophy of science. Abroad, especially in America, the two first aspects have become relativelywell known. Canguilhem'sbook TheNormal and the Pathological (firstFrenchedition: 1943) was firsttranslatedin 1978, and was published again in 1989; in the 1970s, Canguilhem was awarded the Georges Sarton Medal by the History of Science Society for his work on the history of biology. However, in terms of the philosophy of science, and especially the philosophy of the life sciences, until recently Canguilhem was almost completely unknownamong American scholars. Hardlya single of the "philosophyof referenceto him could be found in the currentliterature
This paper does not intend to provide an exhaustive account of Canguilhem's thinking. It will focus on his philosophical approachto the biological sciences. Strictly speaking, I should avoid using the expression it refersto neutrality, "philosophyof biology" because, in spite of its apparent a specificallyAmericantraditionof the past thirtyyears. Canguilhem,like all similarEuropeanthinkersof the same vein, sometimes used the expressions
1 In his Philosophy of Biology Today(Albany: State University of New YorkPress, 1988),
Michael Ruse devotes one chapter to "other lands," that is to say, other than Canada, the United States, and England. The only sentence on France says: "Francehas little interest on the subject"(p. 86), which is frankly astoundingfor any French philosopher.The fifty-two pages of bibliographydo not mention Canguilhem'sname.
the expression"philosophyof biology.306 JEAN GAYON "biological philosophy"or "philosophyof the life sciences.La Connaissance de la Vie (Paris:Hachette. Mattei. Paris:Vrin." in J. His main achievementsduringthis second phase were The Formationof the Conceptof Reflexin the 17th and 18th Centuries(1955)5 in which he demonstrated the fertility of vitalistic traditions. "La philosophieet PhilosophiqueUniverselle. mechanicism.it was translated Normal and the Pathological (Dordrecht:Reidel. In this phase. 6 Georges Canguilhem.from beginning to end. 1952. 4 Georges Canguilhem. Canguilhemwrote a varietyof monographs that intimately associated epistemology. al biologie.It is scatteredthroughouthis publications. Essai sur Quelques Problemes Concernant le Normal et le (ClermontPathologique. 1978)..ed. the history of science. It will be useful here to briefly review the three major phases of Canguilhem'sthought." but he never met . edn. A second edition appearedin 1950 under the same title. In 1966. Biol.vol. This translationwas itself reprinted by Zone Books in 1989. consists of a medical dissertation. and the history of philosophy.Canguilhemmovedtowardthe historyof biology.and that illustratewhat has sometimesbeen called 2 David Hull. 1965). "WhatPhilosophy of Biology Is Not.3The first phase. Not yet translated into English."J.actuallyhe probablyignored. On "philosophyof biology" versus "biologicalphilosophy.4Afterthe war.given that Canguilhemplayed an importantrole in the Resistance) when he was thirty-nine(1943).cell theory.Not yet translated . 2nd rev. A second revisededitionof the 1966 book was published into Englishby CarolynFawcettunderthe title The in 1972 (same publisher). The second section of this book includedthree (Paris:Presses Universitaires new shortessays written1963-1966. or even in a single paper. 1966). 1950). 1977). IV (in press). 90 (1985). into English.. the 1950 edition became the first section of a book entitled Le Normal et le Pathologique de France. and the notion of "milieu. This is the edition quoted in the presentpaper..and as directorof the Institut d'histoire des sciences.2 Canguilhem'sbiological philosophy will not be found in a single book. Therehave been many reprints.a book he wrote and publishedduringthe war (this was hardlyanodyne."1943). Encyclope6die 3 I rely here on FranqoisDagognet's periodizationin "UneOeuvreen TroisTemps. with no alterationexcept a new preface (Paris:Les Belles Letres. Note thatCanguilhemwas firsttrainedin philosophy.and a series of essays published as La Connaissance de la Vie (1952).6 These essays dealt with biological experimentations." Revue de Metaphysiqueet de Morale. F. the philosophy of medicine. vitalism." The last and longest periodbegins after 1955. reprinted.The Nornal and the Pathological. the year when CanguilhemsucceededGastonBachelardas professorof "philosophy and history of science" at the Sorbonne."see Jean Gayon. 2 (1969). 241-268. His. 1955.Publicationsde la Facultedes Lettresde l'Universitede Strasbourg Ferrand:Imprimerie"La Montagne. 29-38.La Fornation du Conceptde Reflexeaux XVIJeet XVIlle siecles (Paris: Presses Universitairesde France." a new phrasethatappearedin the United States in the late 1960. 5 Georges Canguilhem. while he was teachingphilosophyin a lycee. he began studying medicine only in the mid-1930s.not medicine.
I have chosen a differentapproach. 64.Indeed. See also L'tOpistemologie Historiquede Gaston Bachelard(Paris:Vrin. individualityis a key word in Canguilhem'soriginal study. In a recentbook. Second. Here I quote the thirdedition. Ideologie et Rationalit6 dans I 'Histoire des Sciences de la Vie.'0 This thematic account of the development of Canguilhem's work is correct. 43.When he was writing his masters' thesis on Bachelard under the direction of Canguilhem. It is obvious that "epistemologicalhistory"correspondsbetterto what Canguilhemhimself did. 1972).Insteadof focusing on a single thesis. According to Lecourt. 3rd edn. the problemof the natureof biological individualsis 7 DominiqueLecourt.ed."Canguilhemanswered:"epistemologicalhistory"(D.The successive treatments of this concept indicatea significant evolution in Canguilhem'sbiological philosophy. 1969). At three successive points in the developmentof his thought.but it does not reveal much aboutthe possible evolutionof his philosophical theses."the latterapplies to Gaston Bachelard. 1981). Lecourtretainedthe firstexpressionon the title of his thesis and of the correspondingbook. 1968. btudes d'Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences (Paris: Vrin. 1988).Pour une Critiquede l'tpiste'mologie (Paris:Maspero.who coined both "epistemological history"and "historicalepistemology. Translated into Englishby Arthur Goldhammer as Ideologyand Rationalityin the Historyof LifeSciences (Cambridge:MIT Press.personalcommunication).the former to Georges Canguilhem. p.My Ariadne'sthreadis the concept of individuality. 10 Georges Canguilhem. First." Although I am convinced by Dagognet's argument. 11 Franiois Dagognet. 8 from Georges Canguilhem FranqoisDelaporte. p. 1997). Finally.. Nouvelles ttudes d'Histoire et la Philosophie des Sciences (Paris: Vrin. Georges Canguilhem. 1975). Franqois Dagognethas arguedthatthe entire work of Canguilhemcan be understoodas a "deepening"of his 1943 idea of the "normativity" of life. A VitalRationalist:Selected Writings (New York:Zone Books. 1970.The origin of these expressions is quite interesting.OF BIOLOGY CANGUILHEM'SPHILOSOPHY 307 Canguilhem's"epistemologicalhistory"7or "historicalepistemology. This book has not been translatedinto English. I deal with a questionthatled Canguilhemto make significantchanges in his approachto biological philosophy..'"8 The main essays of this period have been gatheredinto two volumes: Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science.the concept of individualityplayed a crucial role. 1994). 2nd edn. The importantpoint is that all periods and thematic (if not disciplinary)aspectsof Canguilhem'sworkareequallyrelevantfor the understandingof his biological philosophy. Lecourt. Lecourt told Canguilhemthat he would describe Bachelard'sphilosophy of science as "historicalepistemology. .. philosophy of science) was markedby the developmentof a characteristic kind of reflection about the ultimatephilosophical significance of the existence of living beings.9 and Ideology and Rationalityin the Historyof Life Sciences.Philosophie de la Vie(Paris:Les Empecheurs de Penseren Rond. history of biology. The Normal and the Pathological (and therefore in his philosophy of medicine).each of the threethematicfields that have just been enumerated(philosophyof medicine. 9 Georges Canguilhem.
In other words:threetimes running.Canguilhemfelt it necessary to reassess the concept of individualityin order to develop his conception of life as value. These assertions will be explained in the rest of this paper. pp. 364. the ontological. For the moment. 14 See above.preservedand transmitted in living beings. In my conclusion. pp. I will refer to the most available French editions. Thus far.Canguilhemaddressedthe ontological issue.individualitystands as a problematicnotion that is dealt with counterintuitively.'2 I will returnto these issues below. and the history of biology on both sides of the Atlantic. . 8). EJtudes d'Histoireet de Philosophie A Vital (partial): des Sciences. 1975). only two books have been completely translated. Finally. the philosophy of biology. Canguilhemfinallyarguedthatmodem molecular genetics. n. 13 See above. 4."Le Conceptet la Vie"(1966). the first and the last book. 3rd edn. or when translationraises problems. A numberof significantexcerptsfrom all aspects 12 GeorgesCanguilhem. Canguilhemviewed individualityas an axiological ratherthan as an ontological notion. I will make some observations on the relations between the philosophy of medicine.'4 that is to say. and as knowledge.13and Ideology and Rationalityin the History of the Life Sciences. n.The Normal and the Pathological.n. In the contextof medical philosophy (questioningthe natureof illness). As far as possible. the issue of what individuals consist of. it will suffice to understand thatindividualityplayed the role of a problematic concept. as being."hence "life is concept"'). in his reflection upon the relation between knowledgeand life. His answer was that individualsshould not be conceived of as beings but as relations. (Paris:Vrin. 10. insofaras it providesan interpretation of biological individuality as "a communicationof information. Canguilhem will be quoted in English translation.308 JEAN GAYON predominant in a series of articlespublishedbetween 1945 and 1960. In these three situations. Canguilhem'work offers a strongintegratedapproach of research." enables us to providea precise meaning to Hegel's obscure but interestingidentificationof life and concept (in Canguilhem'sterms:"thereis a logos inscribed. which deal with variousbiological theories. 362. 317-318. In the end. When no translationis available.In contrastto a dominantand deliberatestreamin Americanscience to these fields studies.which happenedto drive the three successive major dimensions of Canguilhem's philosophyof biology: the axiological. In the context of his examinationof biological theoriessuch as cell theoryor reflex theory. (English translation Rationalist(above. individualityis the enigma that lies behind Canguilhem's reflection in the 1960s on the relationship between life and knowledge. andthe gnoseological (theoryof knowledge).
In fact. 266-267. 269.Since 1966.20For Goldstein..there is a chapterentitled"Norm. 4.HealthandIllness. Those who are familiar with Canguilhem's 1943 book will immediatelyrecognize them.However.8). Goldstein'sbasic idea was that the philosophical determinationof the concepts of normalityand illness initially require "the concept of the individual being. if we leave aside a low-circulationtextbookof moralspublishedjust before the war. 12. Robert& fils.17 the 1943 essay is Canguilhem'sonly synthetic book on philosophy. reflex). In themselves.including some unpublishedmanuscripts. and a numberof fundamental theses.the termsof this title shed light on the structure of the 1943 essay (especially the second or philosophicalpart). 1934).Heredityand Selection"(chap. pp.The 1966 edition includes three additions. 20 Ibid. The first and majoraspect of Canguilhem'sreflectionupon biological individualitycan be found in his 1943 Essay on Some ProblemsConcerningthe 16 This essay in the philosophyof medicine was Normaland the Pathological..OF BIOLOGY CANGUILHEM'SPHILOSOPHY 309 of Canguilhem'sproduction. Many people consider it to be Canguilhem'smasterpiece.that is."Except for very minorcorrections. this book has been issued severaltimes as TheNormaland the Pathological. illness. health. n. The theses exposed in the book were largely inspiredby KurtGoldstein's Structureof the Organism(1934).18 There is no doubt that Goldstein was Canguilhem'sreal master. .the 1943 essay is unaltered. 1939). Traitede Logique et de Morale (Marseille: ImprimerieF. publishedduringthe war as a doctoraldissertationin medicine. and entitled "New Reflections on the Normal and the Pathological. Anomaly. his chosen master.Canguilhemtook from Goldsteinboth his majorsubjectsof investigation(healthand illness. p.the chapteralso containsseveraltheses thatarecentralto Canguilhem'sargument about the notions of the normal and the pathological. 18 KurtGoldstein.DerAujbau des Organismus(La Haye: Nijhoff. n.probablybecause it is the most systematictext he publishedin philosophyproper. 19 Ibid. This volume includes the most complete bibliographyof and on Canguilhem publishedin any language. 17 Georges Canguilhem and Camille Planet.illness is not merely a deviation from such a norm.have volume edited by FrancoisDelaporteunder been translatedin a remarkable 15 the title A VitalRationalist:Selected Writings from Georges Canguilhem."19 Health cannot be properly understood as a "statisticalnorm". and recovery must be understoodon 15 See above. 16 See above. These theses can be easily set out. In The Structureof the Organism.writtenbetween 1963 and 1966.
Ideologie et Rationalite dans i'Histoire des Sciences de la Vie(above."one that goes hand in hand with human liberty. n. pp.. 283."An anomaly is a deviationfrom a supraindividual norm. I will thereforeconsiderthe argumentative of The Normal and the Pathological and show how this book constitutesa meditationon biological individuality. Ibid.health should be conceived of as "an adaptation to a personal milieu".. p. 146. p. 271. 11-13.. Furthermore. for instance.that which includes the total concrete individuality.always with greatesteem and approval.26Finally. 276-280. pp. 6). n. 269.See... Ibid. 24. Ibid. 10). p.it is thereforea personal individualnorm. . ttudes d'Histoireet de Philosophiedes Sciences (above.310 JEAN GAYON the basis of the notion of an "individualnorm":"thereis only one relevant norm.. Canguilhemwent on quotingGoldstein.22 illness should be seen as a qualitativemodificationleading to a "narrowingof the personal milieu"23and recovery will not be conceived of as a returnto a previous state but as the accession to "a new individual norm.an important corollaryof these conceptions was the distinctionbetween an "anomaly" and an "illness. whereasan illness must refer to personal individuality. Ibid. p. n. 292. which has oddly gone unnoticed among his commentators. Canguilhem's important debt to Goldstein.that which takes the individualas its measure. 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 Ibid.27 It is perhapssignificantthat Goldstein publishedhis book in 1934. This being said.need not be dealt with in any more detail. Ibid. dissidentGermanphysician (and a Jew at that)on the individualityof illness and recoveryin the historicalcontext of the war and the Nazi occupationof France."24 Furthermore. 287-291. 347. All the theses quoted above are explicit and centralin Canguilhem's it was certainlynot a neutralact to set out the views of a essay. 138. when he decided to leave GermanyafterHitler's accession to power and take refuge in Holland.28The originalityof the book does not consist so much in the theses as in the argument constructedby Canguilhemin supportof Goldstructure stein's theses on illness. pp. 9).La Connaissancede la Vie(above."21 Consequently.25 Goldstein thoughtone should be cautious in using the concept of anomaly in medicine because the concept paves the way to social discrimination and possibly to racism. To the end of his life. Ibid. 272. p.. Canguilhem's essay was not merely a repetition of Goldstein'stheses.Goldstein concluded that illness was a "'specifically and essentially human trait. p. for Goldstein. p.
p. Illnesses are not beings..33 The other aspect of the criticism can be describedas the axiological side. 3 Ibid. . Although this does not make the argumenta weak one..it is not molecules or tissues or even organs that are normalor pathological. Canguilhemcould not be satisfied with it. according to which pathological phenomena. 42. For Canguilhem. 104.3' For instance. ?III.the concepts of the normal and the pathological have to be interpretedin terms of vital values. pp. p. the concepts of "vital values. at a certainlevel of organization: strictlyspeaking. 30 Canguilhem..30 Canguilhem provides a fascinating comment on the history of this idea. Once again individualityserves as the key argument: it is because actualhumanindividualsfeel sick that the artof medicine exists. even among vital values. 92-93." "norms. He wanted 29 These two questionsare the titles of the two partsof the book.. Such a quantitative modificationmay be a sign of illness. I will merely point out his criticism of this quantitativeconception. For Canguilhem. n. 31 Ibid. but it will be pathologicalonly insofar as it reflects an alteration in the organismas a whole. it must be philosophicallyrepresentedas intrinsicallyill (this is why.I translateCanguilhem's"maladie" as "illness"rather than"disease. 223."34 Illness cannot be reducedto a deviation from the normalor physiological state. Hence the formula: what makes a symptomor a functionalmechanismpathologicalis its "inner relationin the indivisibletotality of an individualbehavior." and "individuality" and their rela- tions are taken as referringspecifically to humansubjectiveexperience. 34 Ibid.it is the individual organismas a whole. 4). the same quantityof glucose in the blood will be pathological for one individualbut not for another. p. I.with its existential and psychological aspects."as translators commonly do). 88..35 In this context of argumentation.CANGUILHEM'SPHILOSOPHY OF BIOLOGY 311 The 1943 essay addresses two questions: (1) "Is the pathological state merely a quantitative modificationof the normalstate?"(2) "Do sciences of the normaland pathologicalexist?"29 The first question refers to a common conception of illness in modem medicine. p."32 This could be describedas the ontologicalside of Canguilhem'scriticismof the quantitative conceptionof illness. in a given environment. in general. 32 Ibid. Illness cannot be properly understood without postulating the existence of "negative values. 3 Ibid. an illness cannot be reduced to an increase or decrease of a given physiologicalparameter.TheNormal and the Pathological (above. but they affect certainkinds of beings.as a function of otherparameters that interactwith glycemia. often referred to as the "positivist" conception of illness. and not vice versa.
I have alreadymentionedCanguilhem'sfinal position on these difficulties. ?1. n. and individualexperience)in such a way thatits formulation would be freedfromproperlyhuman psychological testimony. In fact."What distinguishes Canguilhemis his attemptto clarify the concept of "individualnorm. What is original is the argument. II.the science of illness will hardlyprovide alteration an example of the classical idea of science as a knowledge of laws.it will indeed critiScience can hardlyharborsuchjudgments. "Do sciences of the normal and the pathologicalexist?" At first sight. 37 Canguilhem. In other words. Puttingtogether "objective"and "axiological"may seem strange here because the currentphilosophy of medicine opposes the "subjective" and the "objective"of illness.then medicine will not consist only of descriptivestatements.refused to interpretillness as an "'anomaly" (a deviationfrom the statisticalmean)because he consideredthat 36 Ibid. is borrowedfrom Goldstein.It is at this point thatwe can find the most originalpart of Canguilhem'sinterpretation of illness.values.if illness has to be conceived as a global behavioral in an individualorganism. Second. who reasoned in the context of neurology.37Goldstein. this is the reason that motives the second partof TheNormal and the Pathological. 4). Canguilhemwanted to generalize the axiological concept of illness (in termsof norms. refusing to identify "norm"and "mean. an interpretation thatalso led him to a somewhatunusualview of biological individuality.which consisted of assumingand exploringthe concept of "individualnorm. the issue was to understand betterthe relationbetween medicine and biology.312 JEAN GAYON also to providea more objectiveformulationof his axiological interpretation of illness.36 In evoking Goldstein. as for Goldstein.TheNormaland the Pathological(above.The other bears upon the inevitabilityof axiology in biology in general. The clinical argument.This did not mean denying the importanceof the subjectiveand psychological aspect of illness in man.After the first part of the dissertation. First. The title of the second part addresses the following question.again. nor is Canguilhem'sconviction that medicine is not a science but an art.the issue was ratherto situate the strangeexperienceof illness in the wider context of life. each one enlighteningthe other. we have indeed two reasons to suspect that medicine might be a very uncommonscience."a concept that implies. if the normaland the pathologicalare irreducible axiological categories. on medicine proper. this ratherstrangequestion is equivalent to the traditionalone: Is medicine a science? In itself this question is not original."and more generallythe significanceof the concepts of "positive"and "negative" One of thembears "vitalvalues. ?IV..""anomaly"and "illness. cally involve valuejudgements. As I see it. II. ."Canguilhemexplorestwo lines of argument.
p."38 On these matters.. pp. he assertedthatthis limit was Correlatively. n. Illness. 40 Canguilhem. Illness does not mean primarilythat there is a deviation from some statisticalnorm but that the organism'sability to tolerate an environmental change has been reduced. . adaptedto the environmentand its demands.that .TheNormaland the Pathological (above. It is not only the observationsof clinicians . 4). Manfeels in good health.in orderto analyze betterthe role of norms in the notions of "normativity" of illness. This coincides with the reappearance of order. . Goldsteinadmitted.but normative. cure. and health."the notion of norm being interpretedas a certain structuring of the relation between the individualorganismand its environment. 194. always involves a certainloss in the essential natureof the organism.but only in the sense thatthe sick person is an individualwhose environmentis "narrowed" in comparison to thatof a "normal" individual.39 However. n. 200."40 Thirdand above all. 4).Similarlyfor Goldstein. p.. p.the objectivity and even banalityof his leading ideas. "normativity" is more than that:it means an organism'sability to adopt new norms of life.4'Correlatively. 41 "Disease is characterized by the fact that it is a reductionin the marginof tolerancefor the environment'sinconstancies. for instancethe quotation. 39 See. 194-195. 199.which is health itself ."Healthis a marginof tolerance for the inconstanciesof the environment. Second. cure does not mean a returnto some "normal" 38 KurtGoldstein. Consequently. . Whereas"'normality" is a statisticalconcept that refers to the commonest adaptationto ordinaryconditions of life..thereare three distinctive aspects of his treatmentof Goldstein's idea that both illness and cure imply the institution of a new "individualnorm.healingdid not mean a returnto a previous or "normal" state: "To become well again. Canguilhem extends Goldstein's neuropsychiatric theses to any kind of illness. 197. 195.is an inferiornorm.CANGUILHEM'SPHILOSOPHY OF BIOLOGY 313 the frontierbetween the normaland the pathologicalwas uncertainfor many individualstakensimultaneously." Ibid.that is.The Normal and the Pathological (above..ibid."First."42And finally. but also experimentalverificationswhich go along the lines of his own research. in spite of defects. .only when he feels more than normal.A new individualnormcorresponds to this rehabilitation. 42 Ibid. quoted in Canguilhem. he insists on the objectivity of these theses: "One would gladly emphasize here . Canguilhemproposes a new concept . perfectly clear for the same individualconsideredat differenttimes.as opposed to one way of citing Goldsteinwhich gives the appearance of initiationinto a hermeticor paradoxicalphysiology .illness is not a deviationfrom the norrnbut the emergence of a new "individualnorm.capable of following new norms of life.Canguilhemacknowledges his debt to Goldsteinthroughextensive quotations. pp.
which health is the possibility of transcending What characterizes defines the momentarynormal. but it can be said to be "abnormal in a well-defined situation. 44 Ibid. Canguilhem'smedical meditationon "normativity" irreversibility meditationon individuality."45 A disease is thus "a whereas being healthy is not strictly synonymous kind of biological norm. even a statisticaltype.hemeralopiaor pentosuria. 46 Ibid. sometimes superiorto the old ones.the possibility of toleratinginfractionsof the We begin habitualnormal and institutingnew norms in new situations. p.To be curedis to be given new case no cure is a return norms of life. cure. In Canguilhem'smind. This argumentconsists of questioningthe significance of the concept of normality in biology in general.and the pathological fromthe stateis not at all a clearone. p.or functional like hemophilia. nornality does not consist in have conformingto a type.. the philosophicalredefinitionof illness.Canguilhem'smove from medical philosophyto philosophical biology is worthlocatingprecisely. Besides these clinical arguments. Normalityandabnormality no biological significationwhatsoeverif one does not take into accountthe environment. all these fundamental is a of life. 45 Ibid. the norm.314 JEAN GAYON "in any or "typical"state but always a genuine "physiologicalinnovation":43 to biological innocence. did not imply the total irrelevance health.and cure in termsof "normativity" A disease or a and the "abnormal. the 1943 essay: the "pathological'is not opposed to the "normal."46 neutraltitle of the unusuallesson conveyed by the apparently to understand Health.For any living being.. 228. 196-197. Canguilhemproposesanotherargument on in favor of the thesis that biological norms should always be interpreted an individualbasis."' "being healthy means being not only normal in a with "being normal": given situation but also normative in this and other eventual situations."" whole book.Here is the crucialpassagein TheNormal and the Pathological: The problemof distinguishingbetween an anomaly. There is an irreversibility This is indeed the most famous sentence of the of biological normativity. 196. . p.whethermorphological like the cervical rib or sacralizationof the fifth lumbar. pp." medicalnotions indicatethe opennessand illness. The schema is utterly and explicitly Darwinian.. 196. butit is neverthelessquiteimportant biological point of view because in the end it leads us to nothingless than the general problemof the variabilityof organismsand the significance To the extent thatliving beings divergefrom and scope of this variability.. 43 Ibid." of the currentnotions of the ""normal" pathologicalstate cannot be called abnormalin an absolutesense.
In 1951.47 It is hardly necessary to underline Canguilhem's interest in Teissier and L'Heritier'swork on naturalselection. 197 (my translation). ."48 Thus the medical problemof what is normaland what is pathologicalis only a particular case of the general biological problemof the nature"'vital values. Canguilhem used even more vigorous expressions.Corresponding "Quadrige. maintainsits own norm better there. When a Drosophila with wings gives birth.coll. in Le Normal et le Pathologique(Paris:Presses Universitairesde France. n. An environmentcan be called normal with reference to the living species using it to its advantage."For any living being. feed constantly. arethey abnormal in thatthey endangerthe specific form or are they inventors on the road of new forms? . TheNormaland the Pathological (above. however.he came to stress the inseparability of the 47 Ibid. and in three generations we see sixty percent vestigial Drosophila in a mixed population. for instance. p.It is normal only in terms of a morphologicaland functionalnorm. 4). 1972). and Canguilhemis the only philosopher who noticed this work."49 In other writings. 263.. This never happens in a closed environment. we are being confrontedwith a pathological fact or not? The Canguilhemrefers to Georges Teissier and Philippe L'Heritier'sexperimental work on natural selection in populations of Drosophila in the 1930s: Teissier and Philippe L'Heritierhave demonstratedexperimentallythat certainmutations. is the conclusion that Canguilhem draws from his comparisonbetween the Darwinianapproachto variability and the problem of the normal and the pathological: "An environmentis normalbecause a living being lives out its life betterthere. . 48 Ibid.to a Drosophilawithoutwings or vestigial wings. 49 Georges Canguilhem."Nouvelles Reflexions Concernantle Normal et le Pathologique" (1963-1966). 142. p. tions of existence vary." passage in English: Canguilhem.In a shelteredand closed environment Drosophila with vestigial wings are wiped out by Drosophila with normal wings. The importantpoint. But in an open environmentthe vestigial Drosophila do not fly. The two young biologists were the only ones to be interested both in population genetics and Darwinism in France at that time. .throughmutation.CANGUILHEM'SPHILOSOPHY OF BIOLOGY 315 the specific type.in a new article on the normaland the pathological. the norm is nothing other than "the kind of deviation that naturalselection maintains. p.which can seem disadvantageousin a species' usually can become advantageous appropriate shouldcertaincondienvironment.
There is no biological indifference. Arthur Goldhammer(above. 4).52 Let me now summarizethe kind of meditationon biological individuality developedby Canguilhemin his writingson the normaland the pathological. p.This is precisely the one fact we ask to be granted. as we have normalityin the determination alreadyseen. obviously of human and technological import.as well as species.TheNormaland the Pathological (above. n. .. 6). die. "[I]rregularity they constituteits very existence .. 159-160 (my translation)."But Canguilhemfinallyreinterpreted as "individual 50 Canguilhem. p. . 1deologie et Rationalite'dans les Sciences de la Vie (above. n. 129. reprinted in La Connaissancede la Vie(above. trans."50 In one of his last writings on the question of normality. They point out that most living beings are killed by the environmentlong before the inequalitieswhich they can produceeven have a chance to be of use to them because it kills above all sprouts."5'In fact. he in no way eliminatedthe notion of of the biological object.Canguilhemwas as clear as he could be about the Darwinianschemathatprovidehis answerto this problem:"Although Darwin introducedinto biology a criterionof normalityfounded on the relationof the living being with life and death."Le Normalet le Pathologique'(1951).. Thereis no a priori difference between a successful fonn and a wasted form. 132 (my translation). Canguilhem'sreferenceto Darwinismwas no less clear in the 1943 essay. As a startingpoint. This referencewas indeedextremelyimportant: Darwin'snatural selection alreadyprovidedthe crucial argumentthat allowed the concept of to be extendedfrom the medical sphereto biology as a whole: "normativity" There are some thinkerswhose horrorof finalism leads them to reject even the Darwinian idea of selection by the environmentand struggle for existence because of both the term of selection.. 10). It is the future of forms that determine their values. we have a thesis of the philosophyof medicine. n.as a faultor as an adventure.. But as Georges Teissierobserved. .the fact that many organismsdie before their inequalities serve them does not mean that the presentationof inequalities is biologically indifferent."in Canguilhem. embryos or the young. 6). illness.borrowed from Goldstein:health.316 JEAN GAYON fact of individualvariation withinspecies andthe problemof biological value: and anomaly are not mere accidents affecting the individual. All successes are threatenedbecause individuals. 51 "La question de la normalit6dans l'histoire de la pensee biologique.and consequentlywe can speak of biological nonnativity. pp. n. English translation:Ideology and Rationality in the History of Life Sciences. and recovery should always be conceived of this medicalidea norms. and the idea of advantagewhich comes into the explanationof the mechanism of naturalselection. Individualsingularitycan be interpreted as a failureor an attempt. 52 Canguilhem..
1-49."54 I now come to Canguilhem'sontological discussion of individuality. 319-333. However. 6). 154 (my translation).."53 This thesis boils down to saying that axiology is rooted in the conceptual foundationsof the biological sciences."reprintedin La Connaissance de la Vie in Delaporte.what levels of organizationdid Canguilhemconsiderto be potential candidates in the debate over biological individuality?Canguilhem would certainly be surprisedto learn that many contemporaryAmerican philosophers of biology think that genes. n." Indeed. 43-80. In fact. Canguilhem's final 53 Georges Canguilhem. and societies. A living being is always "an absolute and irreducible system of reference. n.Darwinism was not an end in itself. pp."There is no doubt that this problem was a major one for Canguilhem's philosophy of biology. "Criticsand Criticismsof the Modem Synthesis:The Viewpointof a Philosopher. only three candidates for the status of "individual"are seriously considered: cells. reprinted in Etudesd'Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences (above. n. . cells. pp. 147 (my translation). consists of organizingthe milieu from a centerof reference which cannot itself be referred to anything without losing its original significance.CANGUILHEM'SPHILOSOPHY OF BIOLOGY 317 in the frameworkof a Darwinianview of life."La Theorie Cellulaire. n. 161(above. based on ratherlax definition of the individual as a "spatio-temporally bounded entity.A VitalRationalist(above. . populations. organisms. the Darwiniandetour led to a majorthesis in the philosophy of biology: the thesis of the intimate relation between individuality and vital value."56 In Canguilhem's philosophy of biology. Although not stated in the 1943 essay. and ecosystems are all "individuals.This refers to a questioning of the nature of entities that can rightly be called "individuals. partialtranslation 177. Although the problem pervades almost all of Canguilhem'swritings on the philosophy of biology or medicine. p.not as an object. and individuality. and his study on "wholes and partsin biological thinking"published two decades later (1966). ."Le tout et la partiedans la pensee biologique"(1966). but as a characterin the kingdom of values." Evol. organisms. reprinted in La Connaissancede la Vie(above. species.see Jean Gayon. For Canguilhem. 55 Georges Canguilhem. two majorarticles deserve particular attentionbecause of their systematicnature:his article on "cell theory" (1945). 8). 6). 9). Georges Canguilhem. proteins. Biol.5 First. but I am not sure that he ever came to a definitive solution. p. Life .he would probablynot have accepted such terms. 54 Ibid."Le vivantet son milieu"(1947).. His strategy seems instead to have been to define stronglimits to the extension of the notion of individualityin naturalphilosophy. 56 For a general discussion of this problem. this thesis later came to be perfectly explicit: "[B]iology must primarily hold the living being as a significant being. 24 (1990).
in the literal and he sense of the term.e. 4). 4).In a political model of the part-wholerelation. there is a second doctrine."in TheNormaland the Pathological (above."Fromthe Social to the Vital.318 JEAN GAYON position was that societies are not individualsbecause they are not genuine "wholes.59 say. the organism). whereas the organismis an individual. p."Le tout et la partiedans la pensee biologique"(above."in TheNormaland the Pathological (above. 320. 256. he argues that in the history of biology the part-wholerelation had been representedby means of two metaphoricalmodels.As ErnstHaeckel or Claude Bernardliked to autonomouselements.. 59 Ibid... 62 "OnOrganicNorms in Man. he refused to see them as genuine "wholes. n."like citizens in the Republic. 58 Ibid. p. This is precisely the positionof cell theoryas it was formulated in the second half of the nineteenthcentury."61 did not accept the comparisonof human societies and organisms. p.e. Up until the nineteenth century.partsare individuals. 55).. However. 63 Ibid. it can be said thatcells are not instruments for the whole organism."63 to Canguilhem'searly critical interestin Auguste Comte's sociological and political thinking.. 258.The second model of the part-whole relationin biological objects is a political one.58 Fromthis pointof view.The firstdeals with the relationbetweenwholes andpartsin biological objects. p. n.1926). pp." I am convinced that Canguilhem's ontology of life was conceived in order to justify these two assertions. Following an Aristoteliandefinition.Canguilhemarguesthatfor a genuine whole its unity implies more than the sum of its parts..57 Furthermore.64 Thus Canguilhem'sontology of biological individualityis not an intuitive doctrine. 64 Georges Canguilhem.60 However. this analysis relates only to the role of the political metaphorin biology. p. the organs)were similar to a series of differentiatedtools that convergedon the maintenanceof the whole (i. Canguilhem'sfinal ontological reflectionon living beings consists of two doctrines. 331. partsare not individuals. 330. . 320-323. which perhaps suggests a 57 Canguilhem.biologists had conceived of the relationbetween wholes and partsaccordingto a technologicalmodel: parts(i. cells are "virtually In such a metaphor."62"social This doctrinecan be related norms are to be inventedand not observed. 60 Ibid. p.but ratherit is the organismthataims at the survivalof the cells. When Canguilhemdealt with genuine humansocieties. n. 259. It emergedin the nineteenth century. La TMorie de l'Ordre et du Progres (Diplome d'etudes superieures.Whereas "an organism's norm of life is furnishedby the organism itself. Universitede la Sorbonne.Let us clarify this point.the roughequivalentof a master'sthesis. 61 GeorgesCanguilhem."whereas cells are individualsin spite of their being "parts.
thereforea genuine whole. For a cell. in La Pensee et le Mouvant."concept" opposes "life. In this perspective. however. n. and thereforeconstitute "an absolute and irreduciblereference system" in a given environment. conceptual knowledge is useful. Henri Bergson's reflectionson the relation between life and knowledge were from the beginning an importantsource of stimulationfor Canguilhem. but it is made of fictions (spatial schemata) that are unable to reveal the genuine nature of life (the understandingof which requiresthe intuitiveknowledgeof "duration")."and the philosophy of concept is of no use for a philosophy of life.67 As such. I think. But divided without losing its own characteristics.The implies its own relation to a wider being. 2."a complex web or organic and inorganicbeings endowed with a certain significance for the organism."Le Vivantet son Milieu" (1946-1947). which generalizes.the "wider being" is not a strongly integratedwhole. 55). The third dimension of Canguilhem's discussions of biological individuality is gnoseological.Bergsonemphasized the opposition between life and concept: concepts. they can be said to "generalize. have arisen in the course of evolution as artificialconstructsthat constitute a mediation between the human organism and its environment. 71 (my translation). As with a numberof twentieth-century philosophers interestedin biological sciences. 154. In a famous passage he argues that an individual is "thatwhich cannot be It is a minimumof being."65 But what is this "widerbeing"?This is the decisive step which is because Canguilhemneversystematically all the more difficultto understand developed this idea.just as tools.CANGUILHEM'SPHILOSOPHY OF BIOLOGY 319 solution to the problem. Both authorswere fascinatedby Bergson's complex and ambivalentviews on the relationbetween "life"and "concept.Jean Piaget would be anotherexample. L'EvolutionCreatrice (Paris:Alcan. . is a individual no being minimum. 6). it is the external"milieu. Individuals are beings that have needs. 1907). p. the ontology of life must be subordinated axiology of life. the "widerbeing" is the organism. Or in other words.66 Canguilhem'sontology of individuality thus boils down to reassertingthe primacyof axiology in the philosophy of to the biology." On the one hand. For an organism. In his 1945 article on cell theory.Bergson also emphasized that because all organismsshare the propertyof assimilatingexternal matter for their nutrition and survival." Canguilhemhimself reports this idea: "Bergson explains that it is not the completed animal. On the otherhand. 67 See HenriBergson. Everything 66 Georges Canguilhem. Canguilhem's main conclusion is that individualitydoes not describea being but a relation. reprinted in La Connaissance de la Vie(above. p."LaTh6orieCellulaire"(above. 65 Canguilhem. chap. n. the macroscopic animal. that we can reconstructhis thinking.
68). 350. a collection by two texts of essays firstpublishedin 1952. 318). The second stage is illustrated Error" (published New Concept in Pathology: writtenin the midsixties: "'A as an additionto the 1966 edition of TheNormaland the Pathological). The pieces were writtenbetween 1945 and 1951." "knowledge of life." and "conceptof life. 69 Michel Foucault."Le Conceptet la Vie" (1966). n. Metaphys. 364 (A VitalRationalist[above. The book Knowledgeof Life is made up of six essays (seven in the second edition).Lwoff. At any scale whatever.Canguilhemarguedthatthis new vision becausemolecular of some sortof Aristotelianism of life was a rehabilitation biology admitsthere is a logos (or concept) inscribedin all individualliving In the two successive things. Two very different stages must be distinguished in the evolution of Canguilhem'sview on this subject.bothpapersemphaa new generalconceptionof "life" size thatmolecularbiology has introduced (as information). Five are as historicalnarratives (on cell theory. I will now develop this point. meansto choose andto neglect. n. the cell.A first stage of the reflectioncan be found in the book TheKnowledgeof Life. "Intelligence cannot apply to life without recognizing the originalityof life. The knowledge of life must draw the idea of the living thing from the living thing 68 GeorgesCanguilhem.the mechanisticconception constructed in biology). andMonodreceiveda Nobel Prizein 1965.to live conceptand life arenot In this perspective. which are probablythe best known of Canguilhem'swritings for the Frenchpublic." threeexpressionsthatconstantlyinterferein his discourse. "La Vie: 1'Experienceet la Science. extensionof a characteristic Canguilhem's for understanding This evocationof Bergsonis prerequisite strange reflection upon "knowledge and life. 3-14."Introduction: A VitalRationalist(above.320 JEAN GAYON that is living. the issue is quite different. experimentation philosophical thesis of the autonomy of biological sciences. pp.These two paperswere writtenimmediatelyafter Jacob. n." Rev. A Vital special issue on Canguilhem. 8]. the tissue. Hence the bold formula:"Life is concept. Michel Foucaultconsidered In TheKnowledge this last paperas the most inventivetext of Canguilhem's."68 and spectacular opposed: humanconceptualknowledge is only a particular belonging to all living beings. vitalism. et de Morale. Rationalist. p. 11-22. generalizes.90 (1985). See also Paul Rabinow.In this new context."also firstpublishedin 1966. 9). but not the same one.and "Conceptand Life. ."70 reflections on the relation between knowledge and life. the notion of individualityplays a centralrole. p. p. the question is: How can life be an object of (scientific) knowledge? Canguilhem'sanswer is that there exists a majordissymmetrybetween life sciences and other naturalsciences.69 of Life. But all illustratethe common of life. In the two papers published in 1966. 8). reprinted in Etudesd'Histoireet de Philosophiedes Sciences (above. n." 70 "Le Conceptet la Vie" (above. sometimes serious ambiguities.
Obviously. I will not enter into the detail of this difficult but fascinatinganalysis." Canguilhem traces the relation between theory of knowledge and the concept of life from Aristotle to the present. i. p. 73 Canguilhem."74 lems in Aristotle's thinking resulted from the two meanings he attributed to the soul: the soul was both a formal and eternal principle (containing the common charactersshared by all members of a species) and an active principleexplainingthe generationand functioningof a concrete individual. biochemical) are or are not significant. In 1966. Soul was at once life's reality [ousia] and definition [logos]. quoted in Georges Canguilhem. 13. Hence the insufficiency of any biology which. n. 303).72 By saying this. 1951). n.once again. 66). p. and on its basis developed a brilliantplea for the autonomyof the life sciences. p. One of these quotations provides a precise formulationof the epistemologicalconception of biology thatdominatesThe Knowledgeof Life: "Biology has to deal with individuals who exist and tend to exist."73 bringsus back. "Remarques sur le Problme t:pist6mologiquede la Biologie. a reflex) should be called "biological" only if it is able to indicate the relation that process to the organism as a whole because it is only at that level that we know whetherthe established facts (morphological. Actually. This is a rathercomplicated paper that embraces more or less the entire history of philosophy.physiological. Canguilhemdraws heavily on Kurt Goldstein. the concept of the Of course. n.".. to Canguilhem'soriginalaxiological view of biological individuality. by complete submissionto the spiritof the physicochemicalsciences. n." (Congr6s Internationalde Philosophie des Sciences (Paris: Hermann. who tend to fulfill their capacities in a given environment. was not only the naturebut also the form of the living thing. 336 (A VitalRationalist[above. . I1. 6). completely refuses Such declarations to takeinto accountmeaning. 8]. Goldsteinmeantthatknowledgeaboutsomething happeningin an organism(e. Canguilhemargues that modern moleculargenetics can be "ForAristotle."Le Vivantet son Milieu" (above. p. the author tried at least once to indicate the main links between his biological philosophy and a numberof landmarksin the history of philosophy in general. Thus. the knowledge and life question took a very different turn.CANGUILHEM'SPHILOSOPHY OF BIOLOGY 321 itself. 71 KurtGoldstein.e. 72 Ibid. One of the essays in The Knowledgeof Life.. 74 Canguilhem. 154."Le Conceptde la Vie" (above. in the end. p.g. huge probliving thing was. In a long paper entitled "Concept and Life.introduction to La Connaissancede la Vie(above."7" In the introduction to the book. the outcome of the paper is simple. Canguilhemtotally adheredto this kind of holism.who providesthreequotationsout of five. 68).soul philosophicallyinterpreted as a returnof Aristotelianism. the living thing itself. the one devoted to the notion of "milieu."concludes with these words: "A living thing cannot be reduced to a sum [carrefour] of influences.
enzymes were supposed to know or must know the reactionsaccording to which chemistryanalyzes their action and could... the structuration of matterand the regulationof funcfunction .. including the structuration biology has also adopteda new language.all more or less directly based on geometricalmodels. long before writing even existed . n. code.For Canguilhem. in effect. is Canguilhem'sattitudetowardthe philosophicalmeaningthatmustbe given to this kind of analogical statement. in a sense.are studied. ignore one of them or misreadthe terms....of course. precisely because of this difficulty. To say thatheredityis the communication of information is.Messages. in favorof the vocabulary of linguisticsand communicationstheory. pp.thatnaturecan be a witness butnevera judge. .75 Today.namely.however. and that it concerns knowledge itself as well as its objects.we harkback in a way to the Aristotelianphilosophy with which we began. matteror life. pp. information.. He madethis point explicitly on the occasion of a reflectionupon inbornerrorsof metabolism: At the outset. as if the biochemistand geneticist attributed theirknowledgeas chemist and geneticist to the elements of the hereditary as if patrimony. the concept of hereditarybiochemical error rested on the ingenuity of a metaphor. to acknowledgethatthereis a logos inscribed. Thereis I5 Ibid. When we say that biological heredity is the communicationof a certain kind of information..withoutwriting. physics and chemistry. Canguilhem argues that Aristotle's conception of soul and life can be compared with the modem informationalconception of life in molecularbiology. 316-317).thaterroris characteristic of judgment. instructions. 360. It has droppedthe vocabulary of classical mechanics. decoding:these are the new concepts of life sciences. Whatis interesting. In this sense to know is to be informed.preserved and transmitted in living things.Remember thatthis was writtenmorethanthirtyyears ago.what humanshave sought to do with engraving.writingand printing. contemporary tions. It would be very tempting to denounce an identificationof thoughtandnature.322 JEAN GAYON Nevertheless. 362 (A VitalRationalist[above. I would like here to quote a significantpassage of the 1966 paper: In changing the scale on which the characteristicphenomenaof life which is to say. Apparently everythinghappens. 81. But it must not be forgottenthat information theorycannotbe brokendown. and so on.to learnto decipheror decode.the analogy had to be takenin a strongandrealisticway. in certaininstances or at certaintimes.today it is based on the solidity of an analogy.. Life has always done .. not only as a metaphor. we are very familiarwith such declarations. programs.to transmitmessages.
in TheNormal and the Pathological (above. I have alreadyquoted the bold formula"Life is concept" (or "Life is meaning and concept.."80 Such a conception of "meaning"or "concept" For philosophicalcommon inscribedin matteris of course counterintuitive. 68). 4). 364 (A VitalRationalist[above. 79 Canguilhem.78Such formulasmustunderstood as meaning that there is a deep analogy (an identity from a certainpoint of view) between what humanscall a concept in the domainof mental life. pp.he was extremelysuspicious of the possible medical and social we should applicationsof genetic conceptions. 80 Canguilhem. In fact.79 genetic informationcan be called a logos (or in modem terms. Canguilhemwas ambivalenttowardthis modem view of life.of course. clad in the geneticists' science. the essence of something):"Todefine life as a meaninginscribedin matteris to acknowledgethe existence of an objectivea priori that is inherentlymaterial and not only formal. From the philosophical point of view it would be a on the condition. ." 76 GeorgesCanguilhem. 363-364). On the one hand. 68)."or again"Theconcept is in life").."Le Concept et la Vie" (above. commentator. The availableEnglish translation("a prioriobjective")is incorrect."a delicate expressionthat he sometimes An encoded borrowsfro Hegel (butwithoutborrowingHegel's philosophy). n.between the errorsof informingand informedinformation. all quotationsfrom Hegel in this paper seem to be inaccurate."Le Concept et la Vie" (above. and Canguilhemis certainlynot as explicit as one would like genetic information.. 280-281.The first furnishesthe key of the second. 77 Ibid. a concept) of principleof definition(determination insofaras it is a material. 347. 317). This is not the case here. n. 8]. pp. 81. Aristotelianpsychobiology and the modem technology of transmission not be confused. If muted genes are "errors.not abstract. p.." fear the development of "a genetic inquisition":"At the beginning of this dreamwe have the generous ambitionto spare innocent and impotentliving beings the atrociousburdenof producingerrorsof life.most probably. n.Canguilhem took them from a I thankAndreDoz for his expertiseon this point.The French originalsays: "a prioriobjectif".76 In fact. 276-278.Whatis sense. n. p. p. but he provides some clues about the natureof the subject. 78 Canguilhem.Canguilhemthoughtthatthe analogy between biological and cognitive informationshould be taken seriously by the philosopherof biology. n. pp.hence in English:"objectivea priori".that questionof a new kindof Aristotelianism. 68). To dreamof absoluteremedies is often to dreamof remedies which are worse than the ill."Le Conceptet la Vie" (above."77 On the other hand. a concept will always be an "abstract. 362 (A VitalRationalist [above. At the end therearethe gene police. n."ANew Conceptin Pathology:Error" (1963-1966). this him to be on "identitybetween life and concept.OF BIOLOGY CANGUILHEM'SPHILOSOPHY 323 no difference between the errorof life and the errorof thought. p.
not as a special biological doctrinebut as a fertile philosophyof naturein the history of biology. the structure key constituentof chromosomes. n.324 JEAN GAYON at stake is an informing(althoughmaterial)principlethatdeterminesan individual as such. n. To sum up: I do not pretendto have provided an exhaustive interpretation of Canguilhem's work. as I have just tried to show.But there is a Canguilhemian theory of life as knowledge. this theory is a philosophicaltheoryof biological individuality.I havetriedto identifya themethatdeeply motivatedboth his philosophy of medicine and his philosophy of biology. there is nothing like a systematically developed Canguilhemian "theory of knowledge" (epistemology in the technical sense of English philosophy). ."A New Concept in Pathology"(above.Nevertheless. n."8'Or else. 68). 4). 315-316). but conversely. And. 280. 8]."Most commentators have interpreted this vitalism as a factualor historicalclaim:vitalism.to the detriment of the otheraspectsof Canguilhem'swork). 359-360 (A VitalRationalist [above. pp. p. when Canguilhem comparesthe informational capacityof DNA with Leibniz'sdefinitionof the individualsubstance:"The formula is quite close to Leibniz's definitionof individualsubstance:Lex seriae suarumoperationum. the law of the series in the mathematical sense of the term. pp.this idea involved a subtle articulation in medicineled him to interest biological philosophy:Canguilhem'soriginal a certainview of life. In recent 81 Canguilhem. 82 Canguilhem.a series of operations. From the of medical philosophyand beginning.Canguilhem'smedical philosophyhas its theoretical foundations in a biologically informedview of life. His contributionsto the history of science should be considered in their own right (especially his outstandinghistory of the concept of reflex). Some sentencesexpressthis idea in a vivid form. the modernconception of hereditysuggests an unprecedented proximityof life andconcept. "Le Concept et la Vie" (above.for example: "Heredityis the modem name of substance. The theme of individualityled Canguilhemto put forwardthreemajorideas: axiology is inescapablein the life sciences.This almostformal in the light (logical) definitionof (biological) hereditycan now be interpreted of DNA."82 We see then that Canguilhem'sreflectionon "conceptand life" brought him close to gnoseology. I have triedto show thatCanguilhemalso provideda philosophical elaborationof the idea of the uniqueness and originality of life. the of the fundamental discoveryof molecularbiology. All threetheses have an obvious relationwith what is knownas "Canguilhem's vitalism. as should his general conceptionsconcerningthe relation between the historyand philosophyof science (althoughthey may have been too muchcommentedby philosophers. individualityis betterunderstood as a relationthan as a being. Of course.
. Andre Doz is thanked for his observationson Canguilhem'squotationsof Hegel. Boston University and the French Embassy in the United States are thanked for their support. (Topicsin FrenchPhilosophy of Science: a Franco-AmericanDialogue.OF BIOLOGY CANGUILHEM'SPHILOSOPHY 325 of the philosophyof medicine times.Richard M.in the contextof a "BostonColloquiumfor Philosophyof Science". Burian is warmly thanked for his fruitful observations on a preliminary version of this paper. May 6-7. such intimateand rigorousintertwining and the philosophyof biology have been quite rare. 1996).Matthew Cobb is thankedfor linguistic corrections. Acknowledgments The firstversionof this paperwas given at Boston University.
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