Long a relatively unknown figure in the history of twentieth century French thought – in both France and beyond – Raymond Ruyer’s philosophy has over the past few years begun to slowly garner serious attention.
Despite his lesser-known status, Ruyer was a touchpoint for a series of key French thinkers, including Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Georges Canguilhem, Gilbert Simondon, and Gilles Deleuze. The essential aim of this course is to understand why this was the case.
The recent English translation of Neofinalism and the forthcoming La genèse des formes vivantes (The Genesis of Living Forms) provide us with the resources to outline his novel thought. And in the contemporary conjunction – dominated by an embrace of the hard sciences on the one hand, and a quasi-vitalist endorsement of complexity theory and emergent systems on the other – the novelty of Ruyer’s neo-finalist position retains the full force of its strangeness.
Drawing principally from these two works, this course will outline the major claims that guide Ruyer’s philosophy, his remarkable (arguably unique) engagement with the science of his day, and his attempt to develop a metaphysics adequate to it.
Note on readings. Aside from extracts from Neofinalism, all readings will take the form of draft translations of other pieces by Ruyer, and will be made available at the start of the course.
First Lecture: Introduction / From material order to absolute surface
After introducing Ruyer’s life and work in general terms, this first lecture will introduce his basic methodological position and mode of argumentation. We will then consider in detail the example that he makes use of in both his 1950s book La conscience et le corps [Consciousness and the Body] and Neofinalism: first person conscious experience. This example will set the paradigm for the rest of our discussion of Ruyer’s work.
The central concept this first lecture will endeavour to explain is that of absolute survey.
Second Lecture: Ruyer’s neofinalism
In this second lecture, we will discuss the kernel of Ruyer’s position, what he calls (among other things) psychobiology, inverted epiphenomenalism, or neofinalism, the concept that will guide the lecture.
We will work through a series of elements from Neofinalism to explicate this account, making the case with Ruyer that the order of fixed material reality is a horizon projected by dynamic processes of formation, and that this formation is itself what is real, characteristing even genuine being.
The lecture will contrast his positive account with the variety of positions that Ruyer characterises as inadequate to genuine being in the closing parts of Neofinalism: emergentism (neo-materialism), neo-Darwininism, what he calls “psycho-Lamarkism”, and organicism.
Third lecture: The problematic of embryogenesis
In this lecture we will turn to what is perhaps the central motivating case study in Ruyer’s philosophy: embryogenesis. Following for the most part the argumentative trajectory of The Genesis of Living Forms, this lecture will aim to show 1) why embryogenesis is such an important case for Ruyer, and 2) the way in which it allows him to further generalise his finalist account to explain the whole range of beings, from atoms to humans, in neofinalist terms.
More pragmatically, this class will explicate the first four chapters of The Genesis of Living Forms; its central concept will be, of course, embryogenesis itself.
Fourth lecture: form and anti-Parmenidean being
After a brief parenthesis on Ruyer’s critique of cybernetics and information theory, this lecture will complete the explication of The Genesis of Living Forms, leading us from quantum physics to what he dubs a philosophy of morphogenesis.
The lecture – oriented by the concept of form – will close by discussing Ruyer’s distinction between three ranks of genuine beings: Form I, Form II and Form III. The latter category, which names human being, will lead into the material on value that will occupy us in the final class.
Fifth lecture: From a speculative anthropology to a neofinalist theology, Conclusion
The first half of this lecture will be devoted to the case of human being. We will consider three topics in particular: 1) the role of values in the formation of social life, 2) Ruyer’s related discussion of the nature of utopian fiction, and 3) the nature of human communication. This latter will involve us sketching out three forms of signals-signs that correlate with Forms I, II and III.
We will then turn (by way of summary) to the questions of cosmology and theology – questions that ultimately converge – with which Ruyer often finishes his books.
Finally, the course will conclude by weighing up the major objection to Ruyer’s position: that it reinstates a Platonic and Leibnizian form of idealism. We will motivate this critique by considering the position shared by two of Ruyer’s successors: Simondon and Deleuze.
Course Level: Intermediary. While no particular knowledge will be presupposed, the ground covered – from philosophy, but also the hard sciences – is somewhat demanding.