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Lifeforms

Lecturer: Ben Woodard

Originally Taught: Winter School 2020

This class will provide a conceptual history of the relationship between biology and biophilosophy by focusing on the numerous ways life has been formalized across the sciences and philosophy. In particular it will examine how life as a general concept in western thought has been pulled between four conceptual clusters: teleology (Kant, Blumenbach) self-organization (Schelling, Herder), function (Bernard, Cuvier) and form (Goethe, Geoffroy). The aim of the course is to show how these biological and biophilosophical concepts are still with us in the post-Darwinian present and are helpful in understanding contemporary abuses of biology (such as neo-Darwinian biopolitics or eugenics) without  hastily extracting the biological from the biophilosophical.

Week 1 – Teleology

  • “Architechtonic of Pure Reason” -Kant
  • “Kant's biological teleology and its philosophical significance”-Hannah Ginsborg
  • “Spontaneous Generation”-Stella Stanford

Week 2 – Self-Organization

  • Selections from First Outline - Schelling
  • “Degeneration”-Joan Steigerwald
  • “Schelling’s Concept of Self-Organization”-Marie Heuser-Kesler

Week 3 - Functions

  • Selections from Introduction to Experimental Physiology-Bernard
  • Selections from Objectivity-Lorraine Daston
  • “Machine and Organism”-Canguilhem

Week 4 - Forms

  • Selections from The Metamorphosis of Plants-Goethe
  • “Metamorphic Plants”-Dalia Nassar
  • “Goethe’s Botany”-Agnes Arbor

Week 5 - Darwin after Darwin

  • Selections from The Origin of Species-Darwin
  • “Analogy, Metaphor, and Narrative”-Gillian Beer
  • “Bergson’s Creative Evolution”-Keith Pearson