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Workshop: “The Dialectic of Life, Past and Present: Hegel and the Philosophy of Biology” (University of Bordeaux, June 19-20, 2017)

We are glad to announce the Workshop The Dialectic of Life, Past and Present: Hegel and the Philosophy of Biology, which will take place at the University of Bordeaux on June 19-20, 2017.

The workshop addresses Hegel’s philosophical position concerning the nature of life and organisms, which in contemporary terms might be defined as his philosophy of biology.

In recent years an intense debate in biology and philosophy of biology has begun to tackle the question: “does evolutionary theory need a rethink?” This controversy has reached major scientific journals and has begun to change our current views on evolution and life. Biology is currently undergoing a crucial transition toward less “reductionist” approaches in favor of a more “organicist” view of living systems. A central implication of this transition is a reappraisal of the very idea of “organism”, which had been set aside with the establishment of molecular biology and the modern evolutionary synthesis in the 1940s. In this context, the reference to frameworks and concepts elaborated by authors belonging to the so-called tradition of classical German philosophy is strikingly frequent. Famously, Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin borrowed the concept of Bauplan in order to criticize the adaptationist programme of the modern evolutionary synthesis in light of then recent findings. Recently, Scott Gilbert and Sahotra Sarkar have argued that Kant’s view of organisms was a fundamental precondition of developmental biology. Stuart Kauffman has even portrayed Kant’s understanding of organized beings as a template for self-organization theory.

Extensive literature has been devoted to Kant’s philosophy of biology. On the contrary, while the Critique of the Power of Judgment is considered a fundamental turning point, the work of Hegel on this topic remains largely unexplored. This is due to a long-lasting preconception against his philosophy of nature, a preconception which originated in the nineteenth century and still reigns today. The recent “Hegel-renaissance” in the English-speaking world has so far not yet extended to a revision of this negative view. At present, only a few studies have examined Hegel’s philosophy of nature with only a few of these addressing his philosophy of biology directly. The existing German-speaking literature has focused mainly on historical reconstruction, but these works fail to undermine the reigning prejudice against Hegel’s philosophy of nature and to convey its relevance for the contemporary debate.

The leading hypothesis is that Hegel’s philosophy of biology can be understood as prefiguring the philosophy of biology as currently defined in important ways, especially with regards to the ontological nature of biological organization, the role of teleology in biological explanation, and the relation between life and cognition, and it is especially relevant today in the context of recent challenges to the neo-Darwinian synthesis. The workshop aims to address Hegel’s philosophy biology in relation to its historical context, as well as to its possible relation to recent perspectives, such as the phenomenological tradition (Jonas), philosophical anthropology (Plessner), the theory of autopoiesis (Maturana & Varela), dialectical biology (Levins & Lewontin) and contemporary developments in theoretical biology which focus on the dialectical relation between the “whole” and the “parts” of living systems.

You can find the full program here

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