The Organization of the Living as an Organization of Judgment


24 mars 2021

15h00 - 17h00


The CEFISES Center is pleased to announce the seventh session of the Life & Cognition seminar series in 2020/2021.

Our invited speaker will be Gertrudis Van de Vijver, Centre for the history of philosophy and continental philosophy, Ghent University.

The talk will take place on line, on 24/03/21 - 15h00-17h00.


Even if the concept of organization is increasingly recognized as crucially important to biology in philosophy of biology, theoretical biology and biological philosophy, the fear of thereby collapsing into vitalism, understood as the metaphysical thesis that ‘life’ involves special principles that are irreducible to, and perhaps even run counter to, the physical order, has not really disappeared. One way to overcome this reluctance, is to adopt a more heuristic viewpoint in relation to vitalism, considering it as an “attitudinal stance” (Normandin & Wolfe, 2013). Such a strategy is recognizable in the works of Kant (cf. infra), Goldstein (1934/1995), and Canguilhem (cf. infra), but also in Dennett’s philosophy of mind, whose theory of the intentional stance has been related to the Kantian stance on organisms (Cohen, 2007), as well as in Thompsons’ enactive approach to life in terms of autopoiesis (2007). All of these accounts focus on the subject’s endeavor of observing, studying, and assessing a system that appears to persist as a whole and as an individual, and that as such selectively resists internal and external perturbations. The originality of the attitudinal stance is that it shifts the issue of organization away from ontological commitments regarding the nature of things as they are, in favor of epistemological issues regarding the stance of the knowing subject itself. However, this attitudinal stance is based on some epistemological tenets that need further examination. Firstly, in spite of its anti-Cartesian declarations, it often takes recourse to a Cartesian perspective on the relation between subject and object. Secondly, it rests on the idea that some objects can meaningfully be identified as persisting individuals — organisms — in a way in which others cannot, even if it denies that the capacity to be meaningfully identified as such reflects an actual property of these things. This presentation outlines a possible alternative viewpoint that takes these challenges at heart by developing a co-constitutive picture on the relation between subject and object — a picture based on both Kant’s transcendental logic and Canguilhem’s epistemology of broken judgments. It acknowledges the need to consider the subject as co-constituted with the objects it seeks to describe, and not as an intentional consciousness independently describing them — not as a ‘Cartesian cogito’. The alternative viewpoint presented here focuses on the significance of thepresupposition that there are organized objects, as well as on the almost compulsory return upon those objects that, as Kant states in his third Critique, markedly resist comprehension. With Kant and Canguilhem, it is argued that the presupposition of the organization of living beings must be understood as structurally intertwined with the presupposition of the organization of our conceptual apparatus

Upcoming sessions:

05/05: Arantza Exteberria (San Sebastian)
02/06: Charlotte Alderwick (Bristol)


Life and Cognition seminar series - seventh session, with Gertrudis Van de Vijver, Ghent University

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