Research Group

Is There Not a Truth of Vitalism? Vital Normativity in Canguilhem and Merleau-Ponty

The paper investigates the phenomenon of vitalism through the lens of vital normativity as expounded by Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Georges Canguilhem. I argue that the two authors independently developed complementary critiques of the mechanical-behaviourist conception of life sciences, which culminated in a surprisingly similar notion of life construed as a normative (polarized) activity, i.e., an activity that is not indifferent to its own conditions of possibility. Such an alternative conception of life has far-reaching consequences for the epistemology of life sciences, for it requires it to reconsider not only its object of inquiry – the nature of (the relationship between) an organism and its environment -, but also, since scientists themselves are living beings, the nature of its epistemic practices. What I call the truth of (a specific variety of) vitalism is thus reflected not only in how life is cognized, but also in how life cognizes (itself). This last point is of particular philosophical importance, as it paves the way towards a more dynamic conception of reflection (tentatively called ouroboric thought), which takes seriously that we, as cognizers of life, at the same time live the lives of cognizers.