International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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MONDAY, JULY 6  /  15:30 - 17:00  /  DS-M240
Organized session / standard talks
Discourses on origins: A philosophical inquiry

Pascal Nouvel (Université Paul Valery Montpellier III, France); Guillaume Bagnolini (Université Paul Valéry Montpellier III, France)

As the mathematician and physicist Henri Poincaré said in his last series of lectures in Collège de France : "The problem of the origin of the world has always been a concern for all men who were thinking ; it is impossible to contemplate the spectacle of the starry universe without wondering how it has been formed." Indeed, the problem of origins does not pose itself only for the world as a whole but also for all of their components, including life, humans, language, techniques, and so on. In this session, we will present papers dealing with discourses on origins: discourse about the emergence of consciousness from the non-conscious (Claus Halberg), discourses on the origin of language and their relation with the origin of technics (Arild Utaker) as well as a typology of discourses on origins (Pascal Nouvel).

Origins without causes: On the phenomenological discourse on the origins of man

Claus Halberg (Universitetet i Bergen, Norway)

The phenomenological movement emerged in European thought in opposition to what its pioneers perceived as the relativist threats involved in the contemporary attempts to explain human rational faculties along naturalist (psychological, physiological, and evolutionary) lines. However, the initial enthusiasm with the descriptions of the a priori structures of intentionality as a way to save rationality from the threat of relativism was tempered by an increasing sense that this "static" approach left important genetic matters out of consideration. The phenomenological, anti-naturalist discourse on the origins of man that ensued from this acknowledgment in key thinkers such as Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty is very much alive among our present day's heirs to the phenomenological tradition. In this paper, I try to articulate what it is that distinguishes phenomenology as a contemporary discourse on the origins of man, the motivation and logic behind it, as well as the challenges it faces.

Paleoanthropology and the origins of man: The emergence of techniques and language according to André Leroi-Gourhan

Arild Utaker (Universitetet i Bergen, Norway)

Recent discoveries in paleoantropology have put the question of the origins of man in a new empirical setting. Especially will the large time-scale of millions of years (creating different human species) cast doubt on the hypothesis of a sudden mutation leading to a talking being. Already in 1965 with his book Gesture and Speech Leroi-Gourhan argued for the slow development of human technics. Linking technics to the body and distinguishing between organs and functions of relations, he considered technics as the framework for the emergence speech. The paper will discuss this hypothesis by stressing how it is related to a general view on language as an exteriorization that belongs immanently to a human group.

A typology of discourses on origins

Pascal Nouvel (Université Paul Valery Montpellier III, France)

Discourses on origins can be found in all and every cultures and at all and every times. Most of them consist in mythical or religious narrations, which are, as such, literary discourses. Our culture, however, did produce an other kind of narratives on origins, namely scientific discourses. These discourses present hypothetical theories on the origins (or, to use a more technical term, on the emergence) of things, plants, animals, humans, language, society, etc. Contemporary scientists, for instance Harold Morowitz, the author of The emergence of everything: How the world became complex (2004), are building narratives that tend to give a complete account of the things that exist based solely on scientific clues. In this paper we will discuss the diversity of discourses on origins and we will show that this diversity, although very broad, can nevertheless be understood with simple principles of analysis. Additionally we will suggest that the typology of four ontologies proposed by the French anthropologist Philippe Descola in his study on the diversity of human cultures (Beyond nature and culture, 2005) can also be found among discourses on origins. We will discuss the implications of such a striking similarity between the diversity of cultures and the diversity of discourses on origins.