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PG Work in Progress Seminar
Raffaele Grandoni: “Vital dialogues: Georges Canguilhem on the history of science”
This week Raffaele Grandoni will present his paper 'Vital Dialogue: Georges Canguilhem on the history of science'.
The main feature of the post-Foucauldian historical epistemology (e.g. Hacking, A. Davidson) lies in retracing how the social, cultural and political context determines the emergence of scientific concepts and, in turn, how science plays a role in the government of populations and individuals. However, this tradition fails to provide a normative standpoint from which to judge how relations between science and non-scientific activities affects our lives. A solution, I claim, can be found in one of the sources of these authors: the French philosopher and historian of life sciences Georges Canguilhem.
With my talk, I will address how in grounding it on a vitalist philosophy, Canguilhem turns the history of science into a tool for ethically evaluating political uses of scientific concepts, without introducing any normative criteria from the outside. I will show that Canguilhem’s history of science shares the main feature of post-Foucauldian historical epistemology – i.e. revealing the role of socio-political values in the formation of scientific concepts and retracing the process through which they acquired their autonomy – while also providing the tools for an inherent ethical critique concerning processes of normalisation legitimised by science. My idea is that by defining life as the living being’s unconscious creation of better ways to relate to its environment, Canguilhem developed a critical approach to all attempts (including scientific ones) to uniform human subjectivities under strict norms. From this, I claim that this vitalist background does not only enable Canguilhem’s history of science to evaluate socio-cultural-political influences on scientific concepts, but it also entrusts it with the ethical aim of opposing (from an objective standpoint and without undermining science’s validity) science-led policies that constrain human beings’ capacity to autonomously create their own norms.