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Charles T. Wolfe
University of Ghent
  1. DIDEROT AND MATERIALIST THEORIES OF THE SELF.Charles T. Wolfe - 2015 - Journal of Society and Politics 9 (1).
    The concept of self has preeminently been asserted (in its many versions) as a core component of anti-reductionist, antinaturalistic philosophical positions, from Descartes to Husserl and beyond, with the exception of some hybrid or intermediate positions which declare rather glibly that, since we are biological entities which fully belong to the natural world, and we are conscious of ourselves as 'selves', therefore the self belongs to the natural world (this is characteristic e.g. of embodied phenomenology and enactivism). Nevertheless, from Cudworth (...)
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  2. Sensibility as Vital Force or as Property of Matter in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Debates.Charles T. Wolfe - 2014 - In Henry Martyn Lloyd (ed.), The Discourse of Sensibility: The Knowing Body in the Enlightenment. Springer. pp. 147-170.
    Sensibility, in any of its myriad realms – moral, physical, aesthetic, medical and so on – seems to be a paramount case of a higher-level, intentional property, not a basic property. Diderot famously made the bold and attributive move of postulating that matter itself senses, or that sensibility (perhaps better translated ‘sensitivity’ here) is a general or universal property of matter, even if he at times took a step back from this claim and called it a “supposition.” Crucially, sensibility is (...)
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  3. Vitalism and the Scientific Image: An Introduction.Sebastian Normandin & Charles T. Wolfe - 2013 - In Sebastian Normandin & Charles T. Wolfe (eds.), Vitalism and the scientific image, 1800-2010. Springer.
    Introduction to edited volume on vitalism and/in the life sciences, 1800-2010.
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  4. Forms of Materialist Embodiment.Charles T. Wolfe - 2012 - In Matthew Landers & Brian Muñoz (eds.), Anatomy and the Organization of Knowledge, 1500-1850. Pickering & Chatto.
    The materialist approach to the body is often, if not always understood in ‘mechanistic’ terms, as the view in which the properties unique to organic, living embodied agents are reduced to or described in terms of properties that characterize matter as a whole, which allow of mechanistic explanation. Indeed, from Hobbes and Descartes in the 17th century to the popularity of automata such as Vaucanson’s in the 18th century, this vision of things would seem to be correct. In this paper (...)
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  5. Do Organisms Have an Ontological Status?Charles T. Wolfe - 2010 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 32 (2-3):195-232.
    The category of ‘organism’ has an ambiguous status: is it scientific or is it philosophical? Or, if one looks at it from within the relatively recent field or sub-field of philosophy of biology, is it a central, or at least legitimate category therein, or should it be dispensed with? In any case, it has long served as a kind of scientific “bolstering” for a philosophical train of argument which seeks to refute the “mechanistic” or “reductionist” trend, which has been perceived (...)
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  6. Epigenesis as Spinozism in Diderot’s Biological Project (Draft).Charles T. Wolfe - 2014 - In O. Nachtomy J. E. H. Smith (ed.), The Life Sciences in Early Modern Philosophy. Oxford University Press. pp. 181-201.
    Denis Diderot’s natural philosophy is deeply and centrally ‘biologistic’: as it emerges between the 1740s and 1780s, thus right before the appearance of the term ‘biology’ as a way of designating a unified science of life (McLaughlin), his project is motivated by the desire both to understand the laws governing organic beings and to emphasize, more ‘philosophically’, the uniqueness of organic beings within the physical world as a whole. This is apparent both in the metaphysics of vital matter he puts (...)
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  7. On the Role of Newtonian Analogies in Eighteenth-Century Life Science:Vitalism and Provisionally Inexplicable Explicative Devices.Charles T. Wolfe - 2014 - In Zvi Biener & Eric Schliesser (eds.), Newton and Empiricism. Oxford University Press. pp. 223-261.
    Newton’s impact on Enlightenment natural philosophy has been studied at great length, in its experimental, methodological and ideological ramifications. One aspect that has received fairly little attention is the role Newtonian “analogies” played in the formulation of new conceptual schemes in physiology, medicine, and life science as a whole. So-called ‘medical Newtonians’ like Pitcairne and Keill have been studied; but they were engaged in a more literal project of directly transposing, or seeking to transpose, Newtonian laws into quantitative models of (...)
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  8. A Happiness Fit for Organic Bodies: La Mettrie's Medical Epicureanism.Charles T. Wolfe - 2009 - In Neven Leddy & Avi Lifschitz (eds.), Epicurus in the Enlightenment. Voltaire Foundation. pp. 69--83.
    A chapter on the specifically 'medical' Epicureanism of La Mettrie, connecting his materialist approach to mind-body issues and his hedonistic ethics.
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  9. “Empiricism Contra Experiment: Harvey, Locke and the Revisionist View of Experimental Philosophy”.Alan Salter & Charles T. Wolfe - 2009 - Bulletin d'histoire et d'épistémologie des sciences de la vie 16 (2):113-140.
    In this paper we suggest a revisionist perspective on two significant figures in early modern life science and philosophy: William Harvey and John Locke. Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood, is often named as one of the rare representatives of the ‘life sciences’ who was a major figure in the Scientific Revolution. While this status itself is problematic, we would like to call attention to a different kind of problem: Harvey dislikes abstraction and controlled experiments (aside from (...)
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  10. Holism, Organicism and the Risk of Biochauvinism.Charles T. Wolfe - 2014 - Verifiche: Rivista Trimestrale di Scienze Umane 43 (1-3):39-57.
    In this essay I seek to critically evaluate some forms of holism and organicism in biological thought, as a more deflationary echo to Gilbert and Sarkar's reflection on the need for an 'umbrella' concept to convey the new vitality of holistic concepts in biology (Gilbert and Sarkar 2000). Given that some recent discussions in theoretical biology call for an organism concept (from Moreno and Mossio’s work on organization to Kirschner et al.’s research paper in Cell, 2000, building on chemistry to (...)
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  11. Review of Lucretius and the Early Modern.Charles T. Wolfe - forthcoming - The Classical Review.
    long version of review forthcoming in much shorter version in Classical Review.
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  12. Materialism and ‘the Soft Substance of the Brain’: Diderot and Plasticity.Charles T. Wolfe - 2017 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 25 (5):963-982.
    ABSTRACTMaterialism is the view that everything that is real is material or is the product of material processes. It tends to take either a ‘cosmological’ form, as a claim about the ultimate nature of the world, or a more specific ‘psychological’ form, detailing how mental processes are brain processes. I focus on the second, psychological or cerebral form of materialism. In the mid-to-late eighteenth century, the French materialist philosopher Denis Diderot was one of the first to notice that any self-respecting (...)
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  13. The Return of Vitalism: Canguilhem and French Biophilosophy in the 1960s.Charles T. Wolfe - manuscript
    The eminent French biologist and historian of biology, François Jacob, once notoriously declared “On n’interroge plus la vie dans les laboratoires”: laboratory research no longer inquires into the notion of ‘Life’. Nowadays, as David Hull puts it, “both scientists and philosophers take ontological reduction for granted… Organisms are ‘nothing but’ atoms, and that is that.” In the mid-twentieth century, from the immediate post-war period to the late 1960s, French philosophers of science such as Georges Canguilhem, Raymond Ruyer and Gilbert Simondon (...)
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  14. “The Materialist Denial of Monsters”.Charles T. Wolfe - 2005 - In Charles Wolfe (ed.), Monsters and Philosophy. pp. 187--204.
    Locke and Leibniz deny that there are any such beings as ‘monsters’ (anomalies, natural curiosities, wonders, and marvels), for two very different reasons. For Locke, monsters are not ‘natural kinds’: the word ‘monster’ does not individuate any specific class of beings ‘out there’ in the natural world. Monsters depend on our subjective viewpoint. For Leibniz, there are no monsters because we are all parts of the Great Chain of Being. Everything that happens, happens for a reason, including a monstrous birth. (...)
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  15. Why Was There No Controversy Over Life in the Scientific Revolution?Charles T. Wolfe - 2010 - In Victor Boantza Marcelo Dascal (ed.), Controversies in the Scientific Revolution. John Benjamins.
    Well prior to the invention of the term ‘biology’ in the early 1800s by Lamarck and Treviranus, and also prior to the appearance of terms such as ‘organism’ under the pen of Leibniz in the early 1700s, the question of ‘Life’, that is, the status of living organisms within the broader physico-mechanical universe, agitated different corners of the European intellectual scene. From modern Epicureanism to medical Newtonianism, from Stahlian animism to the discourse on the ‘animal economy’ in vitalist medicine, models (...)
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  16. Chance Between Holism and Reductionism: Tensions in the Conceptualisation of Life.Charles T. Wolfe - 2012 - Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology.
    In debates between holism and reductionism in biology, from the early 20th century to more recent re-enactments involving genetic reductionism, developmental systems theory, or systems biology, the role of chance – the presence of theories invoking chance as a strong explanatory principle – is hardly ever acknowledged. Conversely, Darwinian models of chance and selection (Dennett 1995, Kupiec 1996, Kupiec 2009) sit awkwardly with reductionist and holistic concepts, which they alternately challenge or approve of. I suggest that the juxtaposition of chance (...)
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  17.  17
    Vital Anti-Mathematicism and the Ontology of the Emerging Life Sciences: From Mandeville to Diderot.Charles T. Wolfe - 2017 - Synthese:1-22.
    Intellectual history still quite commonly distinguishes between the episode we know as the Scientific Revolution, and its successor era, the Enlightenment, in terms of the calculatory and quantifying zeal of the former—the age of mechanics—and the rather scientifically lackadaisical mood of the latter, more concerned with freedom, public space and aesthetics. It is possible to challenge this distinction in a variety of ways, but the approach I examine here, in which the focus on an emerging scientific field or cluster of (...)
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  18. The Organism as Ontological Go-Between. Hybridity, Boundaries and Degrees of Reality in its Conceptual History.Charles T. Wolfe - 2014 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 1:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.shps.
    The organism is neither a discovery like the circulation of the blood or the glycogenic function of the liver, nor a particular biological theory like epigenesis or preformationism. It is rather a concept which plays a series of roles – sometimes overt, sometimes masked – throughout the history of biology, and frequently in very normative ways, also shifting between the biological and the social. Indeed, it has often been presented as a key-concept in life science and the ‘theorization’ of Life, (...)
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  19. From Spinoza to the Socialist Cortex: The Social Brain.Charles T. Wolfe - 2010 - In Deborah Hauptmann & Warren Neidich (eds.), Cognitive Architecture.
    The concept of 'social brain‘ is a hybrid, located somewhere in between politically motivated philosophical speculation about the mind and its place in the social world, and recently emerged inquiries into cognition, selfhood, development, etc., returning to some of the founding insights of social psychology but embedding them in a neuroscientific framework. In this paper I try to reconstruct a philosophical tradition for the social brain, a ‗Spinozist‘ tradition which locates the brain within the broader network of relations, including social (...)
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  20. “Man-Machines and Embodiment: From Cartesian Physiology to Claude Bernard’s ‘Living Machine’”.Charles T. Wolfe & Philippe Huneman - forthcoming - In Justin E. H. Smith (ed.), Embodiment, Oxford Philosophical Concepts. Oxford University Press.
    A common and enduring early modern intuition is that materialists reduce organisms in general and human beings in particular to automata. Wasn’t a famous book of the time entitled L’Homme-Machine? In fact, the machine is employed as an analogy, and there was a specifically materialist form of embodiment, in which the body is not reduced to an inanimate machine, but is conceived as an affective, flesh-and-blood entity. We discuss how mechanist and vitalist models of organism exist in a more complementary (...)
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  21. Teleomechanism Redux? The Conceptual Hybridity of Living Machines in Early Modern Natural Philosophy.Charles T. Wolfe - manuscript
    We have been accustomed at least since Kant and mainstream history of philosophy to distinguish between the ‘mechanical’ and the ‘teleological’; between a fully mechanistic, quantitative science of Nature exemplified by Newton and a teleological, qualitative approach to living beings ultimately expressed in the concept of ‘organism’ – a purposive entity, or at least an entity possessed of functions. The beauty of this distinction is that it seems to make intuitive sense and to map onto historical and conceptual constellations in (...)
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  22. Vital Materialism and the Problem of Ethics in the Radical Enlightenment.Charles T. Wolfe - 2013 - Philosophica 88:31-70.
    From Hegel to Engels, Sartre and Ruyer (Ruyer, 1933), to name only a few, materialism is viewed as a necropolis, or the metaphysics befitting such an abode; many speak of matter’s crudeness, bruteness, coldness or stupidity. Science or scientism, on this view, reduces the living world to ‘dead matter’, ‘brutish’, ‘mechanical, lifeless matter’, thereby also stripping it of its freedom (Crocker, 1959). Materialism is often wrongly presented as ‘mechanistic materialism’ – with ‘Death of Nature’ echoes of de-humanization and hostility to (...)
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  23. Automata, Man-Machines and Embodiment: Deflating or Inflating Life?Charles T. Wolfe - forthcoming - In A. Radman & H. Sohn (eds.), Critical and Clinical Cartographies; Embodiment /Technology /Care /Design. 010.
    Early modern automata, understood as efforts to ‘model’ life, to grasp its singular properties and/or to unveil and demystify its seeming inaccessibility and mystery, are not just fascinating liminal, boundary, hybrid, crossover or go-between objects, while they are all of those of course. They also pose a direct challenge to some of our common conceptions about mechanism and embodiment. They challenge the simplicity of the distinction between a purported ‘mechanistic’ worldpicture, its ontology and its goals, and on the other hand (...)
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  24. Embodied Empiricism.Charles T. Wolfe - 2010 - In Charles T. Wolfe & Ofer Gal (eds.), The Body as Object and Instrument of Knowledge. Embodied Empiricism in Early Modern Science. Springer. pp. 1--6.
    This is the introduction to a collection of essays on 'embodied empiricism' in early modern philosophy and the life sciences - papers on Harvey, Glisson, Locke, Hume, Bonnet, Lamarck, on anatomy and physiology, on medicine and natural history, etc.
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  25. Rethinking Empiricism and Materialism: The Revisionist View.Charles T. Wolfe - 2010 - Annales Philosophici 1:101-113.
    There is an enduring story about empiricism, which runs as follows: from Locke onwards to Carnap, empiricism is the doctrine in which raw sense-data are received through the passive mechanism of perception; experience is the effect produced by external reality on the mind or ‘receptors’. Empiricism on this view is the ‘handmaiden’ of experimental natural science, seeking to redefine philosophy and its methods in conformity with the results of modern science. Secondly, there is a story about materialism, popularized initially by (...)
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  26.  33
    Metaphysics, Function and the Engineering of Life: The Problem of Vitalism.Charles T. Wolfe, Bohang Chen & Cécilia Bognon-Küss - 2018 - Kairos 20 (1):113-140.
    Vitalism was long viewed as the most grotesque view in biological theory: appeals to a mysterious life-force, Romantic insistence on the autonomy of life, or worse, a metaphysics of an entirely living universe. In the early twentieth century, attempts were made to present a revised, lighter version that was not weighted down by revisionary metaphysics: “organicism”. And mainstream philosophers of science criticized Driesch and Bergson’s “neovitalism” as a too-strong ontological commitment to the existence of certain entities or “forces”, over and (...)
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  27. “The ‘Physiology of the Understanding’ and the ‘Mechanics of the Soul’: Reflections on Some Phantom Philosophical Projects”.Charles T. Wolfe - 2016 - Quaestio 16:3-25.
    In reflecting on the relation between early empiricist conceptions of the mind and more experimentally motivated materialist philosophies of mind in the mid-eighteenth century, I suggest that we take seriously the existence of what I shall call ‘phantom philosophical projects’. A canonical empiricist like Locke goes out of his way to state that their project to investigate and articulate the ‘logic of ideas’ is not a scientific project: “I shall not at present meddle with the Physical consideration of the Mind” (...)
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  28. The Self-Fashioning of French Newtonianism.Charles T. Wolfe & David Gilad - 2011 - Metascience 20 (3):573-576.
    The self-fashioning of French Newtonianism Content Type Journal Article DOI 10.1007/s11016-010-9511-3 Authors Charles T. Wolfe, Unit for History and Philosophy of Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia David Gilad, Unit for History and Philosophy of Science, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia Journal Metascience Online ISSN 1467-9981 Print ISSN 0815-0796.
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  29. Cultured Brains and the Production of Subjectivity: The Politics of Affect(s) as an Unfinished Project.Charles T. Wolfe - 2014 - In W. Neidich (ed.), The Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism II. ArchiveBooks. pp. 245-267.
    A reflection on overcoming Natur vs Geisteswissenschaften oppositions in thinking about the 'cultured brain' and plasticity.
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  30.  37
    Canguilhem and the Logic of Life.Arantza Etxeberria & Charles T. Wolfe - 2018 - Transversal: International Journal for the Historiography of Science 4:47.
    In this paper we examine aspects of Canguilhem’s philosophy of biology, concerning the knowledge of life and its consequences on science and vitalism. His concept of life stems from the idea of a living individual, endowed with creative subjectivity and norms, a Kantian view which “disconcerts logic”. In contrast, two different approaches ground naturalistic perspectives to explore the logic of life and the logic of the living individual in the 1970s. Although Canguilhem is closer to the second, there are divergences; (...)
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  31. Vitalism Without Metaphysics? Medical Vitalism in the Enlightenment.Charles T. Wolfe - 2008 - Science in Context (dup) 21 (4):461-463.
    This is the introduction to a special issue of 'Science in Context' on vitalism that I edited. The contents are: 1. Guido Giglioni — “What Ever Happened to Francis Glisson? Albrecht Haller and the Fate of Eighteenth-Century Irritability” 2. Dominique Boury— “Irritability and Sensibility: Two Key Concepts in Assessing the Medical Doctrines of Haller and Bordeu” 3. Tobias Cheung — “Regulating Agents, Functional Interactions, and Stimulus-Reaction-Schemes: The Concept of “Organism” in the Organic System Theories of Stahl, Bordeu and Barthez” 4. (...)
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  32. Review of S. Gaukroger, The Collapse of Mechanism and the Rise of Sensibility. [REVIEW]Charles T. Wolfe & Christoffer Basse Eriksen - 2016 - Intellectual History Review 26 (4).
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  33. The Organism – Reality or Fiction?Charles T. Wolfe - 2014 - The Philosophers' Magazine (67):96-101.
    A reflection on organisms as real entities, as constructions, or as fictions.
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  34. Locke’s Compatibilism: Suspension of Desire or Suspension of Determinism?Charles T. Wolfe - 2010 - In Joseph Keim Campbell, Michael O.’Rourke & Harry Silverstein (eds.), Action, Ethics and Responsibility. MIT Press.
    In Book II, chapter xxi of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, on ‘Power’, Locke presents a radical critique of free will. This is the longest chapter in the Essay, and it is a difficult one, not least since Locke revised it four times without always taking care to ensure that every part cohered with the rest. My interest is to work out a coherent statement of what would today be termed ‘compatibilism’ from this text – namely, a doctrine which seeks (...)
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  35.  59
    Review of Fumie Kawamura, Diderot Et la Chimie: Science, Pensée Et Écriture. [REVIEW]Charles T. Wolfe - 2016 - H-France Reviews 16.
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  36.  15
    La biophilosophie de Georges Canguilhem.Charles T. Wolfe - 2017 - Scienza and Filosofia 17.
    ABSTRACT: GEORGES CANGUILHEM’S BIOPHILOSOPHY The eminent French biologist and historian of biology, François Jacob, once notoriously declared «On n’interroge plus la vie dans les laboratoires»: laboratory research no longer inquires into the notion of “Life”. Certain influential French philosophers of science of the mid‐century such as Georges Canguilhem would disagree, or at least seek to resist some of Jacob’s diagnosis. Not by imposing a different kind of research program in laboratories, but by an unusual combination of historical and philosophical inquiry (...)
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  37. Monsters and Philosophy.Charles T. Wolfe (ed.) - 2005 - College Publications.
    Table of contents for MONSTERS AND PHILOSOPHY, edited by Charles T. Wolfe (London 2005) -/- List of Contributors iii Acknowledgments vii List of Abbreviations ix -/- Introduction xi Charles T. Wolfe The Riddle of the Sphinx: Aristotle, Penelope, and 1 Empedocles Johannes Fritsche Science as a Cure for Fear: The Status of Monsters in 21 Lucretius Morgan Meis Nature and its Monsters During the Renaissance: 37 Montaigne and Vanini Tristan Dagron Conjoined Twins and the Limits of our Reason 61 Annie (...)
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