Neanderthal Inheritance

Neanderthal Inheritance


Source: AEON The Neanderthal renaissance

Rebecca Wragg Sykes

is a Palaeolithic archaeologist and heritage consultant, specialising in Neanderthals. Her first book Kindred: 300,000 Years of Neanderthal Life and Afterlife is due for publication in 2019. She lives in Wales.

4,400 words

Edited by Sally Davies

By the 1960s, it was widely believed that Neanderthals were primarily carnivores who dwelt in frigid surroundings with very little vegetation. This was in part based on ignorance of Indigenous plant use in comparable habitats, but also because anthropology was male-dominated, and particularly focused on the lives of big-game hunters. Reactions against this perspective, however – including from feminist scholars – pointed out that a significant proportion of calories came from the ‘slow and steady’ second part of the hunter-gatherer equation: not only plants, but small-game hunting and fishing. In reality, people who live by foraging are deeply embedded in their environment, and everyone, including women, elders and young children, takes part.

These shifts in perspective brought plants and creatures such as birds back into the picture, but their evidence among Neanderthals remained elusive in the archaeological record. The nadir came during the 1980s, when scholars proposed that the vast amounts of bones and teeth in Neanderthal sites weren’t even from hunting, but scavenging. This left Neanderthals skulking around the fringes of hyena or lion kills, grabbing scant scraps without invoking the ire of ‘true’ predators.

However, this scenario was also overturned as archaeology began to mature as a discipline throughout the final decades of the 20th century. A new array of methods, and a growing awareness of bias due to outdated excavation and collection standards, brought our perception of Neanderthals into much sharper resolution. In the decades since, evidence from hundreds of sites has been meticulously parsed and amassed, revealing the Neanderthals as top-level team hunters. They took on mighty beasts including bears, rhinos and possibly mammoth, using finely honed wooden spears for close-quarters jabbing; others were likely thrown like javelins. The myth of speedy critters such as birds or rabbits being out of reach has been crushed, while seafood was at least sometimes on the menu. Strand-line gathering was practised, whether for shellfish or the odd washed-up marine mammal, and maybe freshwater fish.

Plants supplemented this varied carnivorous diet. Neanderthals made their living across a huge geographical area, from North Wales down to Palestine, and eastwards nearly halfway across Siberia, so it’s no wonder we find preserved morsels of figs, olives, pistachios and date palm in caves across the Mediterranean and West Asia. In archaeological sediments and on stone tools, remnants of tubers (wild radish, water lily) and seeds (wild cereal, peas and lentils) have also been discovered. All this tells us that Neanderthals were very likely chowing down on cooked food more diverse than meat. Perhaps food was as important to social identity tens of millennia ago as it is for us today.

What if the first Homo sapiens walked into dark caves to find walls blazing with ancient visions?

Aside from the visceral satisfaction of a full belly, did the Neanderthals experience passions at a more profound level? Were they capable of self-expression, and abstract thought? Archaeologists are nudging closer to affirmative answers. Paintings found at three caves in Spain – La Pasiega, Maltravieso and Ardales – include red-daubed stalactites and flowstone, a clean vertical line and, most enchanting of all, a stencilled silhouette of a hand. Just recently, scientists applied a dating technique measuring the radioactive decay of uranium-thorium in the minerals encrusting the paintings, thereby revealing a minimum age. The results were startling: the oldest ranged from 67,000-52,000 years, appearing some 20,000-7,000 years before we believe that H sapiens arrived in Europe. For many scholars, this represents strong evidence that Neanderthals were responsible. (Others are more hesitant: dating millimetre-thick flowstone layers is complex, and some results suggested contamination.)

A Cave art at La Pasiega, Spain is dated by researchers at the University of Southampton to between 67,000 and 52,000 years old.

Studies across Europe had already found that many cave paintings rested on a substratum of red hand-stencils, lines and dots. The line image at the La Pasiega site seems connected to a ladder-like form, although the other parts might have been added later. Even so, the findings raise the possibility that the first H sapiens entering Europe’s caves walked into the darkness to find, not blank canvases, but walls blazing with ancient visions. If genuine, these discoveries have exposed a hidden layer of Neanderthal self-expression, sitting beneath the more famous Upper Palaeolithic oeuvre. Perhaps painting was even something our species actually learned, rather than being the independent wellspring of art.

Some of the Neanderthals’ creations carry more than a hint of the eldritch – structures so old that their attribution is unquestionable. In the 1990s, hundreds of metres deep inside the Bruniquel cave in southern France, researchers uncovered stalagmites snapped off and arranged into two rings, encircling smaller piles. But it was only in 2013, after a suspiciously old radiocarbon measurement was taken, that researchers began studying them in detail. Over 174,000 years ago, it seems that Neanderthals walked into the isolated chamber and carefully built these large circular structures. More than 400 pieces from the central parts of the stalagmite columns were placed in layers, some balanced on top of each other, others standing in parallel. Many had been extensively burned, and blazes had been kindled in the small piles. At least some of the fuel was bone, potentially including bear, which isn’t easy to set and keep alight. So far there are no artifacts, and no explanation for the rings, but these structures would have taken time and planning to create, and the foresight to provide sufficient illumination underground. Research is ongoing – most excitingly, to see what lies beneath the floor, entombed in calcium carbonate – but Bruniquel has already opened a vista onto a Neanderthal mind as elaborate as our own.

It’s important to add a note of caution to all this, since Palaeolithic archaeology is still full of ‘unknown unknowns’. It’s true that we have no fossil evidence for H sapiens west of the Danube delta – never mind southern Iberia – before 45,000 years ago, which leaves Neanderthals as the chief suspects for the paintings. But absence of bones does not prove absence of hominins, and we know that H sapiens were making their way into the Levant by at least 150,000 years ago. So the case is not entirely closed for the cave art, even if the 3D creation at Bruniquel seems secure. Still, these revelations have radically altered our understanding, and expectations, of what Neanderthals did in their daily lives – which now includes the possibility of more esoteric practices.

Alongside the archaeological evidence, genetics is the second pillar of the recent scientific reappraisal of the Neanderthals. Increasingly refined data suggest that humans and Neanderthals shared an ancestor around 800,000-700,000 years ago, before they split along different evolutionary paths. This process could even have taken place within genetically diverse but interconnected hominin populations that evolved in Africa, and moved out from there to the Near East and farther lands.

In 2010, researchers analysed the genome of three Neanderthal individuals, and compared the data with modern humans from various parts of the world. Based on genetic links, it seems that some time after 200,000 years ago, early H sapiens emerging from Africa interbred with Eurasia’s indigenous hominin inhabitants. That’s why the genomes of all living people – with the exception of those from sub-Saharan Africa – contain a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA. However it happened, the science is clear: to produce the amount of DNA surviving today, taking into account complex processes of selection against Neanderthal genes and less fertile hybrids, there must have been an awful lot of sex between the communities.

This finding rocked the scientific world, and shredded the ‘replacement without interbreeding’ story of the Neanderthals’ decline. Living people preserve a stunning 20 per cent, maybe more, of the Neanderthal genome, albeit as a somewhat tattered archive that’s distributed between different populations. Even more surprisingly, it’s not Western Europeans who have the most Neanderthal DNA: East Asians have up to a fifth more. There were also numerous phases of hybridisation. The earliest known encounter happened more than 220,000 years ago, when a female ancestor of H sapiens mated with a male Neanderthal – much earlier than other known interbreeding between the two groups. At the other end of the temporal scale, the jaw of a human who lived 40,000 years ago in Romania reveals that he counted a Neanderthal among his ancestors just four to six generations back – right at the time when they were about to disappear from the fossil record.

The girl was a first-generation hybrid: her mother Neanderthal, her father Denisovan

In the same year as the Neanderthal DNA announcement, humans were introduced to another long-lost cousin we didn’t even know we had – and with whom we’d also merged. Since the 1970s, Russian scientists had been excavating the Denisova cave in western Siberia. Among thousands of bones they’d found was the tip of a child’s pinky finger. Genetic analysis published in 2010 revealed it to be an entirely unknown hominin population. The ‘Denisovans’, as they were called, were a ‘sister’ group to the Neanderthals, branching off around 600,000-430,000 years ago. A sizeable proportion of the Denisovan genome survives in us, and scientists have pieced together evidence that we interbred with them multiple times. Many more Denisovans have now been identified at the same site, from tiny scraps of bone or even DNA in the cave sediment itself. Yet we still have no idea what these people really looked like, beyond the fact some had dark eyes and skin.

In yet another twist, it turns out the Neanderthals and Denisovans were close contemporaries, living in the same region for thousands of years. During protein sampling aimed at locating more hominins among unidentified bones from the cave, one stood out. Researchers had chanced upon a bone fragment from a girl, probably a teenager, who was a first-generation hybrid: her mother a Neanderthal, her father a Denisovan. Even more incredibly, her paternal ancestry revealed an even older genetic record of mixing between these populations, hundreds of generations before.

It’s hard to square these narratives of repeated contact and reproduction with the archaeological record of the Neanderthals’ sudden demise. Everything we’ve found, whether from new excavations or improved dating, has drawn the noose tighter around that period of time around 40,000 years ago, when Neanderthals’ distinctive skeletal and material remains disappear. Given the chronological resolution that’s possible so far back, this is tantamount to an almost simultaneous vanishing across their entire geographical range. Yet the genetics shows that they were not extinguished, but rather engulfed in a human flood. H sapiens weren’t their executioners so much as their assimilators.

It’s not clear how or why the encounters that led to interbreeding took place. For starters, we shouldn’t treat Neanderthals or early H sapiens as monolithic entities; in reality, the population dynamics must have been enormously varied, with groups spreading out and mingling in different ways in different places. What about the result of all these trysts: with whom, and how, were the hundreds, if not thousands, of hybrid babies raised? Basic anatomy, combined with neurocognitive and psychological research, both imply that these youngsters needed care, support and love to survive and flourish – just as our own offspring do. But does this mean that entire groups merged physically and culturally, or that our mixed genetic dossier is the byproduct of a profusion of ‘one-offs’, accidental encounters that accumulated over 100,000 years? At present we can make only hazy guesses.

Beyond the advances in science, these changes in perspective on Neanderthals are the fruit of a longstanding cultural obsession. Since 1856, we have been trying to capture the likeness of these people – and yes, Neanderthals must indeed be seen as people, albeit of another kind. Yet the portrait is never finished. With each new archaeological advance, they edge closer and closer to us, feeding our hunger to know ever-more intimate details. Yet something lurks: niggling, uncanny. Evolution has primed us with extraordinarily sensitive face-detection capabilities, but this comes with a deep-brain warning system. When faces are not obviously fake, but fall short of hyper-realistic, they snag our reflex recognition while also triggering alarm.

This disquieting aversion to aberrance, the so-called ‘uncanny valley’ effect, was observed in people’s reactions to robots as far back as the 1970s. One explanation for the ‘dyspathy’ it evokes is a protective instinct, helping us recognise threats from cadavers or the diseased. The Neanderthals induce something similar, a mirror image of us in so many ways, yet somehow aslant. Their liminal quality, at some anthropic edge, produces an uneasy tension. We mentally flinch at the same time as being drawn towards them, because they force us to reconsider how we mark the borders of humanity.

This is why the hand stencil at Maltravieso is so breathtaking. It’s a manifestation of corporeality, proof that all those untouchable skeletons in museum cases were once real, vital bodies. Until that point, the rare cases of Neanderthal ‘trace fossils’ were little more than blurred outlines, mostly footprints at just a few sites. A single, clear fingerprint was found around 50 years ago during industrial open-cast mining in the foothills of the Harz Mountains in Germany. It was imprinted on the surface of a piece of soft birch tar. Cooked from bark, this is the world’s first synthetic material, a natural glue used to join stone tip to wooden handle. The Neanderthal who sat fashioning the tool 80,000 years ago, wreathed in astringent fumes, was probably thinking about the near future – how much longer the stone edge would last, when the season would shift – little knowing these actions would stretch to a world thousands of generations later, as a single finger pressed a whorl into the softened tar.

Corporeal encounters with the Neanderthals can bewitch us because they perform a sort of temporal sorcery. Hands pressed on cave walls seem to imbue the rock with the memory of warmth; bodies moving against each other 50,000 years ago become time-travellers in the blood of their descendants. The changing visions we have conjured in our imaginations are made manifest in how Neanderthals are represented in artistic recreations – from the strikingly bestial and depressed-looking creatures of the Victorian era, to the exquisite digital portraits of the contemporary artist Tom Björklund, whose Neanderthals certainly think, feel and dream as much as we do.

There is no cognitive chasm between us, just as there was no reproductive barrier

Today, the story of the Neanderthals is still in flux. It is only 10 years since the watershed DNA discovery and subsequent demolition of their status as evolutionary dead-losses. We now know there were no Neanderthal endlings, no last lonely survivors. Many researchers now question whether we can even think of them as a different species. All the new evidence calls into question the way we have theorised their lives, often involving lists of standards they must meet to be considered genuinely human. ‘Modern’ behaviour has always been a very particular version of how we like to think of ourselves. A classic example – still being played out in arguments over re-excavation of the La Chapelle site – is at what point are we prepared to grant Neanderthals a conception of death? Too often, clear evidence for special treatment of the deceased is not enough; only a perfectly cut grave, the epitome of ‘proper’ Christian burial, is considered proof of meaningful social practices.

The next step is to kick our habit of narcissism and self-projection, and try to illuminate the Neanderthals on their own terms.


The origins of human language

Paleolithic Continuity Paradigm

The origins of human language



Date de parution : 01/2017
Éditeur : Edizioni dell’Orso
Nombre de pages : 64
ISBN : 978-88-6274-727-1



A New Theory on The Origins

of Human Language

pp 49-50:


It is crucial to bear in mind the following assertion recently made by two eminent paleoanthropologists: The relationship between modern anatomy, cognition, culture and language is a complex one, and cannot be captured by a single saltationary event, let alone by a single ‘gene’ acquired at a specific moment in our evolutionary history, leaving unambiguous traces in the fossil or archaeological record. This myth of a ‘modern human revolution’ is now totally rejected by paleoanthropologists and archaeologists, but it is disturbing to see it persisting – explicitly or implicitly – in discussion of language and cultural evolution…

Also Seyfarth & Cheney (2016) insist on this point, asserting that, “despite their differences, human language and the vocal communication of nonhuman primates share many features”. These common features suggest that “during evolution the ancestors of all modern primates faced similar social problems and responded with similar systems of communication and cognition”. In this respect, “when language later evolved from this common foundation, many of its distinctive features were already present”.

According to Hillert, 2015, “Australopithecus was already able to use […] referential vocalizations (possibly in combination with facial expressions and gestures) to display basic emotions and perceptions”; and Kimbel & Villmoare, 2016, state: “A fresh look at brain size, hand morphology and earliest technology suggests that a number of key Homo attributes may already be present in generalized species of Australopithecus, and that adaptive distinctions in Homo are simply amplifications or extensions of ancient hominin trends”. Their conclusion is that “the expanded brain size, human-like wrist and hand anatomy, dietary eclecticism and potential tool-making capabilities of ‘generalized’ australopiths root the Homo lineage in ancient hominin adaptive trends, suggesting that the ‘transition’ from Australopithecus to Homo may not have been that much of a transition at all”. Bringing together the PCP, Chomsky’s innatism, and the refusal of a conception of languages as evolving organisms, more concrete elements for inferring the existence of an articulated language in early humans from the Plio-Pleistocene can be offered by the four elements of deductive evidence indicated before [1) the lithic-geolinguistic correlation, 2) the millennial stability of languages, 3) the new discovers about the language of animals, and 4) the process of human world formation], linked to paleontological-archaeological considerations on Australopithecus [concerning its 4) anathomy, 5) habitat, 7) tools, and 8) bone remains]

As linguists and prehistorians working in the epistemological frame offered by the Paleolithic Continuity Paradigm, we can positively answer to the question luminously posed 20 years ago by Tobias. We would then point out the three following conclusions:

(1) Homo was born loquens (2.5 million years ago); (2) languages appeared with Homo himself; 3) language existed much earlier on (before 2.5 million years ago), with Australopithecus.

Narrative processing

A cross-modal hub for narrative processing


Posted on December 3, 2018

Stories are focused on the protagonist Excerpts from: Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience Volume30 , No. 9

Storytelling Is Intrinsically Mentalistic: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study of Narrative Production across Modalities

my notes in: [ ]


 People utilize multiple expressive modalities for communicating narrative ideas about past events. The three major ones are speech, pantomime, and drawing. The current study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to identify common brain areas that mediate narrative communication across these three sensorimotor mechanisms. In the scanner, participants were presented with short narrative prompts akin to newspaper headlines (e.g., “Surgeon finds scissors inside of patient”). The task was to generate a representation of the event, either by describing it verbally through speech, by pantomiming it gesturally, or by drawing it on a tablet.In a control condition designed to remove sensorimotor activations, participants described the spatial properties of individual objects(e.g., “binoculars”). Each of the three modality-specific subtractions produced similar results, with activations in key components of the mentalizing network, including the TPJ,

[temporoparietal junction]

posterior STS [posterior superior temporal sulcus], and posterior cingulate cortex. Conjunction analysis revealed that these areas constitute a cross-modal “narrative hub”that transcends the three modalities of communication. The involvement of these areas in narrative production suggests that people adopt an intrinsically mentalistic and character-oriented perspective when engaging in storytelling, whether using speech,pantomime, or drawing.


Theories of language origin can be divided into“vocal” and “gestural” models (McGinn, 2015;Arbib, 2012;Armstrong & Wilcox, 2007;MacNeilage & Davis, 2005;Corballis, 2002).Gestural models posit that manually produced symbols evolved earlier than those produced vocally and that speech was a replacement for a preestablished symbolic system that was mediated by gesture alone.Importantly, the kind of gesturing that gestural models allude to is“pantomime” or iconic gesturing. Iconic gesturing through pantomime is thought to have predated symbolic gesturing, passing through an intermediate stage that Arbib (2012)refers to as “proto-symbol.”

From a neuroscientific perspective, these theories of language origin establish a fundamental contrast between two different sensorimotor routes for the conveyance of language, namely,the audiovocal route for speech and the visuo-manual route for pantomime. Language is an inherently multimodal phenomenon, not least through the gesturing that accompanies speaking (Beattie, 2016;Kendon, 2015;McNeill, 2005).Humans have yet a third means of conveying semantic ideas, and that is through the generation of images, as occurs through drawing and writing (Elkins, 2001).We have argued elsewhere that the capacity for drawing is an evolutionary offshoot of the system for producing iconic gestures such as pantomimes (Yuan & Brown, 2014).Drawing is essentially a tool-use gesture that “leaves a trail behind” in the form of a resulting image. Overall, speech,pantomime, and image generation comprise a “narrative triad,”representing the three major modalities by which humans have evolved to referentially communicate their ideas to one another.

Perhaps, the most important function of language is the communication of narrative, conveying the actions of agents, or“who did what do whom.”


Agency is one of the primary elements that is encoded in syntactic structure (Tallerman, 2015).Although word order varies across languages, 96% of languages place the subject (the agent) before the thing that the subject acts upon(Tomlin, 1986).Hence, an “agent first” organization of sentences seems to be an ancestral feature of language grammar (Jackendoff, 1999),and gestural models of language origin highlight this type of sentence organization as well (Armstrong & Wilcox, 2007). Although language is well designed to communicate agency through syntax, it typically does so in a multimodal manner, combining speech and gesture. A basic question for the evolutionary neuroscience of human communication is whether the conveyance of narrative is linked to specific sensorimotor modalities (vocal vs. manual) or whether there are cross-modal narrative areas in the brain that transcend these modalities. This question led us to design an experiment in which we would explore for the first time whether cross-modal brain areas mediate the communication of narrative ideas using speech,pantomime, and drawing as the triad of production modalities.

Most previous neuroimaging studies of cross-modal communication are perceptual, and we are not aware of production studies that have compared any pair of functions among speech,pantomime, and drawing in healthy adults.

Evolutionary Implications

Both vocal and gestural models of language attempt to account for the origins of syntax. As mentioned in the Introduction, language grammar seems to have an intrinsically narrative structure to it,being efficient at describing who did what to whom—in other words,agency. Standard subject–verb–object models of syntactic structure (Tallerman, 2015)essentially encapsulate the kinds of transitive actions that we examined in our headlines. A large majority of languages operate on an agent-first basis, putting the actor before either the action or the target of the action. To the extent that agency is one of the most fundamental things that is conveyed in grammars (and which is lacking in so-called proto-languages; Bickerton, 1995),then our results have application to evolutionary models of language.In particular, the imaging results that were obtained in the most purely linguistic condition (speech) were replicated almost identically in the nonlinguistic conditions of pantomime and drawing.This cross-modal similarity suggests that the capacity of syntax to represent agency can be achieved through nonlinguistic means employing essentially the same brain network.

A number of biological theories of language propose that syntax emerged from basic processes of motor sequencing (Arbib, 2012;Fitch, 2011;Jackendoff, 2011).Although this might account for grammar’s connection with object-directed actions—in other words, the gestural level of representation—it may not do justice to the sense of agency that is well contained in syntactic structure. Hence, we suggest that another important evolutionary ingredient in the emergence of syntax—beyond the “plot” elements contained in motor sequencing—would be the incorporation of circuits that mediate the sense of agency, not least“other” agency. To be clear, we are not arguing that the TPJ and pSTS are syntax areas. We are simply suggesting that, whereas circuits in the IFG [inferior frontal gyrus] more typically associated with syntax (Zaccarella & Friederici, 2017)might mediate the gestural level of language, the TPJ might have a stronger connection with agents in the overall scheme of language,discourse, and narrative. Agency can be conveyed linguistically through speech and sign, but it can also be conveyed nonlinguistically through pantomime (iconic gesturing) and drawing.


In this first three-modality fMRI study of narrative production, we observed results that suggest that people generate stories in an intrinsically mentalistic fashion focused on the protagonist, rather than in a purely gestural manner related to the observable action sequence. The same set of mentalizing and social cognition areas came up with each of the three modalities of production that make up the narrative triad, pointing to a common set of cognitive operations across modalities. These operations are most likely rooted in character processing, as related to a character’s intentions, motivations, beliefs, emotions, and actions. Hence,narratives—whether spoken, pantomimed, or drawn—seem to be rooted in the communication of “other-agency.”

Posted in English, ScienceTagged hub mentalistic storytelling

Darwin on expression of emotions

The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (Wikipedia)

Author Charles Darwin
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Subject Evolutionary theory, human behaviour
Publisher John Murray
Publication date 1872

The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals is Charles Darwin‘s third major work of evolutionary theory, following On the Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871). Initially intended as a section of The Descent of Man, it was published separately in 1872 and concerns the biological aspects of emotional life. In this book, Darwin sets out some early ideas about behavioural genetics, and explores the animal origins of such human characteristics as the lifting of the eyebrows in moments of surprise and the mental confusion which typically accompanies blushing. A German translation of The Expression appeared in 1872; Dutch and French versions followed in 1873 and 1874. A second edition of the book, with only minor alterations, was published in 1890.

Before Darwin, human emotional life had posed problems to the western philosophical categories of mind and body.Darwin’s interest can be traced to his time as a medical student and the 1824 reprint of Sir Charles Bell‘s Anatomy and Philosophy of Expression which argued for a spiritual dimension to the subject. In contrast, Darwin’s biological approach links mental states to the coordination of movement, and allows cultural factors only an auxiliary role in the shaping of expression. This biological emphasis leads to a concentration on six emotional states: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust. It also leads to an appreciation of the universal nature of expression, with its implication of a single origin for the entire human species; and Darwin points to the significance of emotional communication with children in their psychological development. Darwin sought out the opinions of some leading British psychiatrists, notably James Crichton-Browne, in the preparation of the book which forms his main contribution to psychology.[

Amongst the innovations with this book are Darwin’s circulation of a questionnaire (probably inspired by his cousin, Francis Galton) during his preparatory research; simple psychology experiments on the recognition of emotions with his friends and family; and (borrowing from Duchenne de Boulogne, a physician at the Salpêtrière) the use of photographs in his presentation of scientific information. Publisher John Murray warned Darwin that including the photographs would “poke a hole in the profits” of the book; and The Expression of the Emotions is an important landmark in the history of book illustration.



Excerpts from “Epigenetics meets endocrinology” by Xiang Zhang and Shuk-Mei Ho

…1.We propose a three-dimensional model (genetics, environment, and developmental stage) to explain the phenomena related to progressive changes in endocrine functions with age, the early origin of endocrine disorders, phenotype discordance between monozygotic twins, rapid shifts in disease patterns among populations experiencing major lifestyle changes such as immigration, and the many endocrine disruptions in contemporary life.

2.The inherited variability is static and does not change in response to the environment. The acquired variability can be caused by an environmental factor such as u.v. radiation from the sun (exogenous) or reactive oxygen species generated during metabolism (endogenous). But once acquired these effects are permanent and irreversible. Thus, inherited and acquired variability, either alone or in concert, cannot fully explain the high degree of variability and the reversibility of the endocrine system in response to the environment.

3. Most cells or organs have various degrees of phenotypic plasticity, whereby the phenotype expressed by a genotype is dependent on environmental influences

Collectively, these findings indicate that nongenetic factors, including the environment, are important determinants of variability in endocrine function and risk of disorders. Endocrine glands and their target organs, because they function to maintain homeostasis in the body, must be highly responsive to environmental changes.

4. A high degree of mismatch between the adaptive trait and the future environment, which includes aging, changes in lifestyle, or the introduction of new chemicals, pathogens, and pollutants, may increase the risk of developing disease. Prime examples are the strong correlations observed between hyponutrition and/or low birth weight with many endocrine disorders related to thyroid function, calcium balance, utilization of glucose, insulin sensitivity, and adrenal gland function (Vaag & Poulsen 2007, Hyman et al. 2009, Latini et al. 2009).

5. The mechanisms underlying the interactions of genetics and the environment, which produce an adaptive phenotype in an endocrine axis, remain elusive. However, a growing body of literature suggests that the missing connection resides in epigenetics, a pivotal mechanism of interactions between genes and the environment (Jaenisch & Bird 2003, Cook et al. 2005, Jirtle & Skinner 2007, Tang & Ho 2007, Vaag & Poulsen 2007, Ling & Groop 2009; Fig. 1).

6. Epigenetics links genetics with the environment in endocrine function. Hormone levels vary in response to internal and external environmental changes. Epigenetics, in response to exogenous and endogenous environmental cues, defines active and repressed domains of the genome. These responses explain the high phenotypic plasticity observed in the endocrine system, in which different genetic programs are executed from the same genome based on changes in the environment.

7. Epigenetic modifications defined as heritable changes in gene function that occur without a change in the nucleotide sequence (Bird 2007, Goldberg et al. 2007, Berger et al. 2009). They are mitotically and transgenerationally inheritable (Rakyan et al. 2002, 2003, Hitchins et al. 2007) and potentially reversible (Bannister & Kouzarides 2005, Weaver et al. 2005). The most studied mechanisms known to affect the epigenome are DNA methylation, histone modification, and aberrant expression of microRNAs (miRNAs; Esteller 2005). These processes along with other epigenetic events determine when and whether various sets of genes are expressed in a tissue or cell.

8. Histones are special proteins that facilitate the packaging of the DNA into nucleosomes, the basic building block of the chromatin. Posttranslational modifications such as acetylation, methylation, phosphorylation, sumoylation, and ubiquitination occur at specific residues in histones N-terminal tails (Cosgrove et al. 2004). These modifications determine whether the DNA wrapped around histones is accessible to the transcriptional machinery… In most instances, histone modifications work hand-in-hand with DNA methylation to achieve short- and long-term changes in transcriptional programs through transient or permanent reorganization of the chromatin architecture (Kondo 2009; Fig. 2).

9. DNA methylation and histone modification are two major epigenetic mechanisms that corroborate in regulating endocrine-related gene expression. Packaging genes into active or inactive chromatin determines whether they are transcriptionally accessible or not. The N-termini of histones have specific amino acids that are sensitive to posttranslational modifications, which contribute to chromatin status.

10. Epigenetics also plays important roles in regulating thyroid hormone and retinoic acid metabolism. For example, the expression of the sodium iodide symporter (SLC5A5), which is responsible for the uptake of iodine in the thyroid, was shown to be regulated by cytosine methylation of its promoter (Venkataraman et al. 1999, Smith et al. 2007).

11. As a general observation, epigenetic dysregulation of the expression of type I receptor genes is closely linked to endocrine-related disorders including cancers of the breast, prostate, testis, and endometrium. DNA methylation dysregulates androgen receptor expression in prostate and endometrial cancer (Kinoshita et al. 2000, Sasaki et al. 2000), estrogen receptor-α in breast cancer (Yoshida et al. 2000, Archey et al. 2002, Adams et al. 2007, Champagne & Curley 2008), estrogen receptor-β in ovarian, prostate, and breast cancer (Zhao et al. 2003, Zhu et al. 2004, Zhang et al. 2007, Zama & Uzumcu 2009), and progesterone receptor in endometrial cancer (Sasaki et al. 2003).

12. Peptide hormones are another major class of hormones, which have a broad spectrum of action, including regulation of energy metabolism (e.g. insulin), adiposity (e.g. leptin), growth (e.g. GH), and differentiation (e.g. FSH).

Disruption of the synthesis of peptide hormones or their cognate receptors by epigenetic events often leads to metabolic changes (e.g. obesity and metabolic syndrome; Plagemann et al. 2009) and abnormalities in neuropsychological behavior (e.g. autism and alcohol dependence; Gregory et al. 2009, Hillemacher et al. 2009), as opposed to cancer, the predominant disorder for epigenetic dysregulation of steroid hormones and their receptors (Widschwendter et al. 2004).

…Notably, epigenetic regulation of genes encoding peptide hormones or their receptors is largely related to developmental stage- and tissue-specific function or the development of a metabolic or neural disorder. For example, in cultures of mouse embryonic stem cells, the hypermethylated promoter of the insulin gene undergoes demethylation as these cells differentiate into hormone-producing cells; and in both the mouse and human insulin gene promoters, the CpG sites are demethylated in insulin-producing pancreatic β-cells but not in other tissues without insulin expression (Kuroda et al. 2009).

13. In a recent study of autism-spectrum disorders, hypermethylation of the gene promoter encoding the oxytocin receptor was found to be associated with a reduced level of mRNA expression and was significantly associated with autism (Gregory et al. 2009). In another report, significant alterations of the mRNA expression and promoter-related DNA methylation of vasopressin were reported in patients with alcohol dependence (Hillemacher et al. 2009).

At the organismal level, the functioning of an endocrine axis involves multiple endocrine organs: for example, the hypothalamo–pituitary-gonadal axis comprising at least three hormone-producing tissues and many target tissues. The coordination of the entire axis, representing the first dimension of regulation controlled by genetic programs, is complex and meticulously well controlled. The interaction of these programs with the environment produces variable epigenomes, greatly amplifying the complexity of interaction and outcomes. These interactions can be viewed as the second dimension of influence…Finally, we will emphasize the effects of lifespan events that have strong modifying influences on epigenetics and pay special attention to windows of susceptibility during human development from conception to death.

14. Genetics, environment, and stages of lifespan development interact in a three-dimensional space to create discordant endocrine phenotypes (epigenomes) from an identical genetic background (a single genome).

A widely studied area of epigenetics–environment– lifespan interactions is the relationship between birth weight and disease in later life. Animal studies have demonstrated that retardation of intrauterine growth results in progressive loss of β-cell function and the eventual development of type 2 diabetes in the adult. This association directly links chromatin remodeling with suppression of gene transcription (Simmons 2009).

15. A review of human studies also indicated an inverse relationship between birth weight and susceptibility to endocrine metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and obesity (Godfrey 2006).

Insulin resistance is another example of epigenetic dysregulation resulting in the loss of function in an endocrine axis over time when it is constantly challenged by environmental changes such as specific dietary deficits. It is the condition in which normal amounts of insulin are insufficient to produce a normal insulin response from insulin-sensitive organs/tissues such as the liver, muscle, and adipose tissue, which all play an important role in the etiology and clinical course of patients with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or coronary heart disease (Reaven 1993).

16. Summary and perspectives
It has become apparent that genetics alone is insufficient to explain the dynamic and complex interdependent relationships between the endocrine system and endogenous and exogenous environmental changes. … Epigenetics serves as a mechanism mediating the continuous `editing’ of the genome or epigenetic marks laid down in early life by exposures and experiences during later life. This paradigm has expanded the static and gene-centric view of phenotypic attributes to a more plastic and adaptive view molded by epigenetics. To fully understand the impacts of epigenetics on endocrine function and vice versa, we need a genome-wide search for plasticity genes or loci directly responsive to a specific environmental stimulus. To achieve this goal, current research is applying high-throughput investigative technologies to uncover global changes in the methylome(s), miRNA signatures, and the histone codes defining the interplay and advanced informatics to produce biologically meaningful data and conclusions. To advance these investigations, our focus should be placed on two commonly raised questions: 1) whether epigenetic changes induced by environmental exposures or lifestyle choices in one generation can be passed to the next and 2) whether these `inherited’ changes can be reversed upon removal of the exposures or through lifestyle modifications. Answers to the first question are of paramount importance to the primary prevention of endocrine disorders such as obesity, and answers to the second would open doors to the use of epigenetic drugs or interventions for the reversal of endocrine disorders with a strong epigenetic etiology. The opportunities of applying epigenetics to the prevention and treatment of endocrine disorders are limitless and certainly will emerge rapidly in the near future.


© Georges Canguilhem, Trans. David M. Peña-Guzmán 2016 ISSN: 1832-5203 Foucault Studies, No. 21, pp. 200-213, June 2016


What is Psychology?* Georges Canguilhem

The psychologist seems to be more embarrassed by the question “What is psychology?” than the philosopher by the question “What is philosophy?” The reason is that philosophy is constituted by the question of its sense and essence much more than it is defined by any answer to it. The fact that this question is reborn incessantly without ever admitting a satisfying response is, for those who would like to call themselves “philosophers,” a reason for humility and not a cause for humiliation. But, for psychology, the question of its essence, or more modestly of its concept, also brings into question the very existence of the psychologist since, lacking the ability to explain what he is, he has difficulty explaining what

* Georges Canguilhem’s “Qu’est-ce que la psychologie?” was first delivered at the Collège Philosophique on December 18, 1956. It was then published in Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale in 1958. Eight years later, in 1966, it appeared in the second volume of the Cahiers pour l’Analyse, which bore its title. This volume included a “Foreword” by Jean-Claude Milner, a “Supplement” (“Les graphes de Jacques Lacan, commentés par Jacques- Alain Miller”), and contributions by Robert Pagès, Alain Grosrichard, Chevalier de Merian, Serge Leclaire, and Thomas Herbert. Translation source: Georges Canguilhem, “Qu’est-ce que la psychologie?” Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale, Vol. 63, No. 1 (January-March, 1958), 12-25. Translator’s note: Translation work is labor-intensive and tiring, on a good day. Here, I have tried to stay as close as possible to the letter of Canguilhem’s text. For example, unlike other translations (in both English and Spanish), this one reproduces all the section- and paragraph-breaks of the original 1958 article. And while works mentioned in the body of the essay are presented here under the title of their English translations (when available), all references have been preserved in their original French (mainly to protect the accuracy of page references). In spite of my largely literalist approach to translation, however, there were moments I was forced to abandon this path. For the sake of readability, for instance, I made some stylistic calls. I changed a few commas to semi-colons and, once or twice, introduced a period. I added quotation marks in places where the mention/use distinction was helpful and appropriate. I relied on dashes and parentheses to break up some the longer and more cumbersome sentences in the original text. I also translated idiomatic expressions in French into idiomatic expressions in English given that a strict attachment to the literal meaning would have resulted in a bizarre, and bizarrely fractured, style entirely foreign to Canguilhem himself. Finally, where translation proved particularly onerous, I opted for presenting the original French alongside the English translation in bracketed form. Special thanks to Rabih Hage, Simon Truwant, and Ellie Anderson for aiding and abetting in this translation.


Foucault Studies, No. 21, pp. 200-213.

he does. He can justify his importance as a specialist only by pointing to an always-debatable “efficiency” [efficacité]. And some would not care one bit if this “efficiency” engendered, in the philosopher, an inferiority complex.

In saying of the psychologist’s efficiency that it is debatable, we do not mean that it is illusory; we simply want to note that it will remain, without doubt, ill-founded as long as it has not been shown to be really due to the application of a science, which is to say, as long as the status of psychology is not fixed in such a way that one would be forced to take it for something more and better than a composite empiricism that has been codified, literally, for the sake of teaching. In fact, from a good number of works in psychology one gets the impression that they add up to a philosophy without rigor, an ethics without exigency, and a medicine without control. Philosophy without rigor because it is eclectic under the pretense of objectivity; ethics without exigency because it teams up with ethological experiences that are themselves without critique, e.g. those of the confessor, of the educator, of the leader, of the judge, etc.; and medicine without control because of the three kinds of illnesses most unintelligible and least curable—i.e., illnesses of the skin, illness of the nerves, and mental illnesses—the study and treatment of the last two have always furnished to psychology its observations and hypotheses.

Therefore, it seems that in asking “What is psychology?” one poses a question that is neither impertinent nor futile.

For a long time we have looked for the unity characteristic of the concept of a science in the direction of its object. The object would dictate the method used for the study of its properties. But this was, at bottom, to limit science to the investigation of a fact [un donné], to the exploration of a domain. When it became clear that every science more or less gives itself its fact and appropriates for itself, in this way, what one calls its “domain,” the concept of a science became progressively more focused on its method than on its object. Or more exactly, the expression “object of science” acquired a new sense. The object of science is no longer only the specific domain of problems and obstacles to resolve, it is also the intention and target of the subject of science, it is the specific project that constitutes a theoretical conscience as such. One could respond to the question “What is psychology?” by making appear the unity of its domain in spite of the multiplicity of methodological projects. To this type of response belongs that brilliantly given by Professor Daniel Lagache, in 1947, to a question posed, in 1936, by Édouard Clasparède. 1 The unity of psychology is here sought in its possible definition as general theory of behavior—a synthesis of experimental psychology, clinical psychology, psychoanalysis, social psychology, and ethnology.

1 Édouard Clasparède, L’unite de la pscyhologie (Paris: PUF, 1949).


Canguilhem: What is Psychology?

On a closer look, however, we notice that perhaps this unity looks like a pact of peaceful coexistence signed by professionals more than a logical essence obtained by the revelation of constancy across a variety of cases. Of the two tendencies between which Professor Lagache want to find a solid accord—i.e. the naturalist one (experimental psychology) and the humanist (clinical psychology)—, one gets the impression that the second carries, for him, more weight. Without a doubt, this is what explains the absence of animal psychology from this review of disputing parties. True, we see very clearly that it is contained by experimental psychology—which is in large part a psychology of animals—, but it is contained there only as material to which the method is applied. In reality, a psychology can be considered “experimental” only on account of its method, and not on account of its object. Meanwhile, and despite appearances, it is on account of its object more than its method that a psychology is said to be “clinical,” “psychoanalytic,” “social,” “ethnological.” All these adjectives are indicative of one and the same object of study: man, loquacious or taciturn, sociable or unsociable. In light of this, can one rigorously speak about a general theory of behavior as long as the question of whether there is continuity or rupture between human language and animal language, between human and animal society, remains unsolved? It is certainly possible that, on this point, it may not be philosophy that gets to decide, but science, in fact many sciences, psychology included. But in order to define itself, psychology cannot prejudge what it is called upon to judge. Otherwise, it is inevitable that in presenting itself as the general theory of behavior, psychology will incorporate some idea of Man. Hence, it is necessary that we allow philosophy to question psychology about where this idea comes from, and whether it may not be, ultimately, from some philosophy.

Because we are not psychologists, we would like to broach the fundamental question posed here via a different route. That is to say, we propose to explore whether or not the unity of a project can confer to the different types of disciplines called “psychological” their eventual unity. But our method of investigation demands a step back [un recul]. Exploring how various domains overlap can be done by their separate investigation and by comparing them with one another in the present (about a decade in the case of Professor Lagache). Exploring whether certain projects coincide demands that we extract the sense of each of them, not at the moment it gets lost in the automatism of application but at the moment it emerges from the situation that provokes it. Searching for an answer to the question “What is psychology?” becomes, for us, the obligation of sketching a history of psychology, one considered of course solely in relation to its orientations and in connection with the history of philosophy and the history of the sciences; a history necessarily teleological since it is destined to convey to the posed question the assumed original sense of the diverse disciplines, methods, or enterprises whose current disparity legitimizes this same question.


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Psychology as natural science Although etymologically “psychology” means science of the soul, it is remarkable that an independent psychology is missing, in both idea and fact, from the philosophical systems of antiquity, where the psyche, or soul, is taken to be a natural being. There, investigations of the soul find themselves split between metaphysics, logic, and physics. The Aristotelian treatise On the Soul is in reality a treatise of general biology, one of his writings consecrated to physics. After Aristotle, and according to the tradition of the School, the “Courses of Philosophy” at the beginning of the 17th century still discuss the soul in the chapter on physics.2 The object of physics is the natural and organized body that has life as a potentiality [ayant la vie en puissance]. Thus, physics treats the soul as the form of the living body and not as a substance separate from matter. From this point of view, a study of the organs of knowledge—that is to say, of the external senses (the five usual senses) and the internal senses (common sense, fantasy, memory)—does not differ in any regard from a study of the organs of respiration or digestion. The soul is a natural object of study, a form in the hierarchy of forms, even if its essential function is the knowledge of forms. The science of the soul is a province of physiology, in its original and universal sense as a theory of nature.

It is to this ancient conception that an aspect of modern psychology returns without interruption: psycho-physiology (for a long time exclusively considered as psycho-neurology but today, also, as psycho-endocrinology) and psycho-pathology (as medical discipline). In this respect, it does not seem superfluous to recall that well before the two revolutions that permitted the development of modern physiology, those of Harvey and Lavoisier, a revolution no less important than those produced by the theory of circulation and respiration was set in motion by Galen when he established, clinically and experimentally—after the doctors of the School of Alexandria (Herophilus and Erasistratus), against Aristotelian doctrine, and in accordance with the anticipations of Alcmaeon, Hippocrates, and Plato—that it is the brain and not the heart that is the organ of sensation and movement, and the seat of the soul. Galen truly founds an uninterrupted filiation of research, an empirical pneumatology for centuries, in which the fundamental piece is the theory of animal spirits, and which was dethroned and superseded at the end of the 18th century by electro-neurology. While decidedly pluralist in his conception of the relationship between the psychic functions and the encephalic organs, Gall proceeds directly from Galen and dominates, in spite of his extravagances, all investigations of cerebral localizations during the first sixty years of the 19th century, until Broca.

In sum, the psychology of today, as psycho-physiology and psycho-pathology, always returns to the 2nd century.

2 Cf. Scipion De Pleix, Corps de Philosophie contenant la Logique, la Physique, la Métaphysique et l’Ethique (Genève, 1636 [1st ed., Paris, 1607]).


Canguilhem: What is Psychology?

Psychology as the Science of Subjectivity The decline of Aristotelian physics in the 17th century marks the end of psychology as para- physics, as science of a natural object, and correlatively the birth of psychology as science of subjectivity.

Those truly responsible for the advent of modern psychology as the science of the thinking subject are the mechanical physicists of the 17th century.3

If the reality of the world is not confused with the content of perception, if reality is obtained and posed vis-à-vis the reduction of illusions of sensible experience, then the qualitative residue of this experience engages, in virtue of being possible as falsification of the real, the responsibility of spirit, which is to say, of the subject of experience insofar as it does not identify itself with mathematical or mechanical reason, instrument of truth and measure of reality.

But this responsibility is, to the eyes of the physicist, culpability. Psychology constitutes itself as the enterprise for the exoneration of spirit. Its project is that of a science that, in the face of physics, explains why spirit is forced by nature, first and foremost, to trick reason with respect to reality. Psychology becomes a physics of external sense in order to account for the counter-senses that mechanical physics imputes to the use of the senses in the function of knowledge.

The Physics of External Sense Psychology, the science of subjectivity, begins as psychophysics for two reasons. First, because it cannot be less than a physics if it is to be taken seriously by physicists. Second, because it must look in a certain nature—i.e., in the structure of the human body—for the reason for the existence of the irreal residues [résidus irréels] of human experience.

But even so, this is not a return to the ancient conception of a science of the soul, a branch of physics. The new physics is a calculus. Psychology tends to imitate it. It will seek to determine the quantitative constants of sensation and the relations between these constants.

Here, Descartes and Malebranche are the leaders. In Rules for the Direction of the Mind (XII), Descartes proposes the reduction of qualitative differences between sense data to a difference between geometric figures. Here, it is a matter of sense data insofar as they are, in the proper sense of the term, information from one body to others. And what is informed by the external senses is an internal sense: “fantasy, which is nothing more than a real and figured body.” In Rule XIV, Descartes expressly deals with what Kant will call the intensive magnitude of sensations (Critique of Pure Reason, transcendental analytic, anticipation of perception): the comparisons between lights, sounds, etc., which cannot be converted into

3 Cf. Aron Gurwitsch, Déveleoppement historique de la Gestalt-Osychologie, in Thalès, 2nd year (1935), 167-175.


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exact reports except by analogy with the extension of the figured body. If we add that Descartes, even if not properly speaking the inventor of the term and concept of the reflex, has nonetheless affirmed the constancy of the link between excitation and reaction, we see that psychology—understood as the mathematical physics of external sense—begins with him and culminates with Fechner, thanks to the help of physiologists such as Hermann Helmholtz, and in spite of and against the Kantian reserves criticized, in turn, by Herbart.

This type of psychology is enlarged to the dimensions of an experimental psychology by Wundt, whose is motivated by the hope of making appear, in the laws of the “facts of consciousness,” the same kind of analytical determinism that mechanics and physics expect from any universally valid science.

Fechner died in 1887, two years before Bergson’s thesis, Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness (1889). Wundt died in 1920 having formed a good amount of disciples (some of whom are still alive), and not without having contributed to the first attacks launched by the psychologists of Form against the analytical physics (at once experimental and mathematical) of external sense. This was done in accordance with Ehrenfels’ observations about the qualities of form (On the Qualities of Form, 1890), which themselves resemble Bergson’s analysis of totalities perceived as organic forms that dominate their supposed parts (Time and Free Will, ch. II).

The science of internal sense But the science of subjectivity does not reduce to the elaboration of a physics of external sense. It suggests and presents itself as the science of self-consciousness or the science of internal sense. The term psychology dates to the 18th century, having the sense of the science of the “I” (Wolff). The entire history of this psychology can be written as the history of the counter-senses [des contre-sens] that the Meditations of Descartes initiate without, however, assuming responsibility for doing so.

When Descartes, at the start of Meditation III, considers his “interior” to render himself better known and more familiar to himself, the consideration aims at Thinking. The Cartesian interior, consciousness of the Ego cogito, is the direct knowledge the soul has of itself qua pure understanding. Descartes calls the Meditations “metaphysical” because they claim to arrive directly at the nature and essence of the “I think” in the immediate grasping of its existence. Cartesian meditation is not a personal confessional [une confidence personnelle]. The reflection that gives self-knowledge the rigor and impersonality of mathematics is not the kind of self- observation that the spiritualists will to trace back to Socrates beginning in the 19th century, so that Mr. Pierre-Paul Royer-Collard can give Napoleon I the assurance that the Know Thyself, the Cogito, and Introspection all give the throne and the altar their impregnable foundation.


Canguilhem: What is Psychology?

The Cartesian interior has nothing in common with the internal sense of the Aristotelians, “who conceive their objects interiorly and inside the head,” 4 and which Descartes considered, as we have seen, as an aspect of the body (Rule XIII). This is why Descartes says that the soul knows itself directly and more easily than the body. We overlook the explicitly polemical intention of this affirmation too often because, according to Aristotelians, the soul does not know itself directly. “Knowledge of the soul is not direct, but only by reflection. This is because the soul is similar to the eye that sees everything but cannot see itself except by reflection as in a mirror […] and the soul, by parallel, does not see itself and does not know itself except by reflection and recognition of its effects.”5 This thesis rouses the indignation of Descartes when Gassendi reclaims it in his objections to Meditation III, and to which he responds: “It is not the eye that sees itself, or the mirror, but spirit, which alone knows the mirror, the eye, and itself.”

But this decisive reply does not put an end to this scholastic argument. Maine de Biran uses it once more against Descartes in “On the Decomposition of Thought,” and A. Comte invokes it against the possibility of introspection, that is to say, against the method of self- knowledge that Reid borrows from Pierre-Paul Royer-Collard to turn psychology into the scientific propaedeutic to metaphysics, thus justifying by experimental means the traditional theses of spiritualist substantialism.6 Even Cournot, in all his wisdom, does not hold back from also taking up this argument, this time to support the idea that psychological observation concerns the behavior of others more than the “I” of the observer, that psychology resembles wisdom more than science, and that “it is in the nature of psychological facts to be translated into aphorisms rather than theorems.”7

One has misunderstood the teachings of Descartes if one constitutes, against him, empirical psychology as the natural history of the “I”—from Locke to Ribot, passing through Condillac, the French Ideologues and the English Utilitarians—or if one constitutes, after him, a rational psychology founded on the intuition of a substantial “I.”

To Kant still belongs the glory of having established that even if Wolff was able to baptize his post-Cartesian newborns (Psychologia empirica, 1732; Psychologia rationalis, 1734), he was nonetheless unable to successfully found their pretensions to legitimacy. Kant shows, on the one hand, that phenomenal internal sense is just a form of empirical intuition, which he tends to confuse with time. On the other, he shows that the “I” that is the subject of all judgment of apperception is itself a function of the organization of experience, but one of which there can be no science because it is the transcendental condition for all science. The Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science (1786) challenges the scientific scope of psychology,

4 Scipion Du Pleix, op. cit., Physique, 439. 5 Ibid., 353. 6 Cours de Philosophie positive, 1re leçon. 7 Cournot, Essai sur le fondements de nos connaissance (1851), §§371-376.


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whether based on the image of mathematics or physics. No mathematical psychology is possible in the same way that there exists a mathematical physics. Even if one, in virtue of anticipating perception relative to intensive magnitudes, applied the mathematics of the continuous to the modifications of internal sense, one would not thereby obtain anything more than a geometry confined to the study of the properties of the straight line. There is also no experimental psychology in the same way that there is a chemistry that constitutes itself by the use of analysis and synthesis. We cannot experiment on others or ourselves. Plus, internal observation affects its object. Wanting to surprise oneself in self-observation would lead to insanity [alienation]. Psychology, then, can only be descriptive. Its true place is in an Anthropology, as a propaedeutic to a theory of skill and prudence, crowned by a theory of wisdom.

The science of intimate sense If we call “classical psychology” what we intent to refute, it must be noted that in psychology there are always classics for someone. The Ideologues, heirs to the sensualists, took as “classical” the Scottish psychology that only advocated, like them, an inductive method so as to better affirm, against them, the substantiality of spirit. And, before being rejected as “classical” by the theoreticians of Gestalt psychology, the atomistic and analytic psychology of the sensualists and the Ideologues was itself already viewed as such by a romantic psychologist like Maine de Biran. Through him, psychology becomes the technique of the Diary and the science of intimate sense. The solitude of Descartes was the asceticism of a mathematician. The solitude of Maine de Biran is the idleness of a school principal. The Cartesian I think founds thought itself. The Biranian I want founds self-consciousness over and against an exteriority. At his isolated desk, Biran discovers that psychological analysis does not consist in simplifying but in complicating; that the primitive psychic fact is not an element but already a relation, and that this relation is lived with effort. He arrives at two conclusions, unexpected for a man whose functions are of authority, which is to say, commandment: consciousness requires the conflict between a power and a resistance; man is not, as de Bonald thought, an intelligence serviced by the organs but a living organization serviced by intelligence. It is necessary for the soul to be incarnated, and so there can be no psychology without biology. Self-observation does not forgo recourse to either the physiology of voluntary movement or the pathology of affectivity. The situation of Maine de Biran is unique, between the two Royer-Collards. He has dialogued with the doctrinarian and been judged by the psychiatrist. We have from Maine de Biran a “Promenade avec M. Royer- Collard dans les jardins du Luxembourg” and we have from Antoine-Athanase Royer- Collard, the former’s younger brother, an “Examen de la Doctrine de Maine de Biran.”8 If

8 Published by his son Hyacinthe Royer-Collard (in Annales Médico-Psychologiques, Book 2 (1843), 1).


Canguilhem: What is Psychology?

Maine de Biran had not read and discussed Cabanis (On the Relations between the Physical and Moral Aspects in Man, 1798), if he had not read and discussed Bichat (Physiological Researches on Life and Death, 1800), the history of pathological psychology would ignore him, which it cannot do. The second Royer-Collard is, after Pinel and alongside Esquirol, one of the founders of the French school of psychiatry. Pinel had pleaded for the idea that the insane are at once sick patients like the rest, neither possessed nor criminals, and also different from them and should be cared for separately and separated, depending on the case, into specialized hospital services. Pinel founded mental medicine as an independent discipline, starting from the therapeutic isolation of the insane at Bicêtre and Salpêtrière. Royer-Collard imitates Pinel at the Maison Nationale de Charenton, where he becomes head doctor in 1805, the same year Esquirol defends his medical thesis on The Passions Considered as Causes, Symptoms and Means of Cure in Cases of Insanity. Royer-Collard becomes, in 1816, professor of legal medicine at the Faculty of Medicine of Paris and, in 1821, the first holder of the chair of mental medicine. Royer-Collard and Esquirol had as pupils: Calmeil, who studied paralysis in the insane; Bayle, who recognized and isolated general paralysis; Félix Voisin, who created the study of mental retardation in infants. And it is at Salpêtrière that—after Pinel, Esquirol, Lelut, Baillarger, and Falret, among others—Charcot becomes, in 1862, the leader of a service whose works will be followed by Théodule Ribot, Pierre Janet, cardinal Mercier, and Sigmund Freud.

We have seen psycho-pathology positively begin with Galen and culminate in Sigmund Freud, creator of the term “psychoanalysis” in 1896. Psycho-pathology did not develop in isolation from the other psychological disciplines. Because of the investigations of Biran, it compelled philosophy to ask itself, since at least a century before, from which of the two Royer-Collards it should borrow the idea of psychology that we must develop. In this way, psycho-pathology is at once judge and party to that uninterrupted debate in which metaphysics gives direction to psychology without thereby giving up the right to say a word about the relationship between the physical and the psychic. For a long time, this relationship has been formulated as somato-physical before becoming psycho-somatic. This reversal is the same, moreover, as the one carried out on the signification of the unconscious. If one identifies psychism and consciousness—based, rightly or wrongly, on the authority of Descartes—, the unconscious turns out to be of a physical order. If one assumes that the psychic can be unconscious, psychology does not reduce to the science of consciousness. And the psychic is no longer only what is hidden, but also what hides itself, that which one hides; it is not simply the intimate, but also—a term Bossuet takes from the mystics—the abyssal. Psychology is no longer just the science of intimacy, but the science of the profundities of the soul.


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Psychology as science of reactions and of behavior In proposing to define Man [l’homme] as a living organization serviced by intelligence, Maine de Biran marked in advance—better, apparently, than Gall who thought, according to Lelut, that “man is no longer an intelligence but a will serviced by the organs”9—the terrain on which a new psychology would be constituted in the 19th century. But, at the same time, he assigned it its limits since, in his Anthropology, he situated human life between animal and spiritual life.

The 19th century sees the biology of human behavior emerge (alongside psychology) as a nervous and mental pathology, as the physics of external sense, as the science of internal and intimate sense. The reasons for this emergence seem to be the following. First, scientific reasons to know: the constitution of Biology as a general theory of the relations between organisms and their milieus, which marks the end of belief in the existence of a separate human reign. Then, technical and economic reasons to know: the development of an industrial regime that directs attention to the industrious character of the human species and marks the end of belief in the dignity of speculative thought. And, finally, political reasons that mark the end of belief in values of social privilege and result in the diffusion of egalitarianism: conscription and public education become State affairs, and the demand for equality in military positions and civil functions (to each according to his job, works, or merits) becomes the real, though often overlooked, foundation of a phenomenon proper to modern societies, that is to say, the generalized practice of expertise, in every sense of the word, as the determination of competence and the test for simulation.

At any rate, what characterizes this psychology of behavior, in comparison to other types of psychological investigation, is its constitutional incapacity to grasp and present with clarity its founding project. If among the founding projects of previous types of psychology, there are some that pass for philosophical counter-senses [des contre-sens philosophiques], here, to the contrary—all links to philosophical theory having been refused—the issue is to figure out from where a given psychological investigation gets its sense. In accepting to become, under the sponsorship of biology, an objective science of aptitudes, reactions, and behaviors, psychology and psychologists completely forget to situate their own specific behaviors in the context of their historical circumstances and the social milieus in which they propose their methods or techniques, and in which they make their services accepted.

Nietzsche, adumbrating the psychology of the 19th century psychologist, writes: “We, psychologists of the future, view the instrument that wishes to know itself almost as a sign of degeneration; we are the instruments of knowledge and we would like to have all the naïveté and precision of an instrument; so we must not analyze ourselves, know ourselves.” 10

9 Qu’est-ce que la phrénologie? Ou Essai sur la signification et la valeur des systèmes de psychologie en général et de celui de Gall, en particulier, (Paris, 1836), 401. 10 Nietzsche, La volonté de puissance, translated by Bianquis, Book 3, §335.


Canguilhem: What is Psychology?

Astonishing misunderstanding, and how revealing too! The psychologist only wants to be an instrument, without knowing of what or of whom. Nietzsche seemed more inspired when, at the start of The Genealogy of Morality, he applied himself to the enigma represented by English psychologists, that is to say, the utilitarians who were preoccupied with the genesis of moral sentiments. He wondered what had pushed them in the direction of cynicism when explaining human behavior in terms of interest and utility, and in the direction of forgetting these fundamental motivations. It is precisely here that, in the face of the behavior of the psychologists of the 19th century, Nietzsche provisionally renounces all cynicism, which is to say, all lucidity!

The idea of utility, as a principle of psychology, is linked to the philosophical understanding of human nature as a power of artifice [comme puissance d’artifice] (Hume, Burke) or, more prosaically, to the definition of Man as a toolmaker (the French Encyclopédistes, Adam Smith, Franklin). But the principle of a biological psychology of behavior does not seem to have been disengaged, in the same fashion, from an explicitly philosophical conscience, without a doubt because this principle can be activated only on the condition that it remain unformulated. This principle is the definition of Man himself as tool. Utilitarianism (which implicates the idea of utility for man, the idea of Man as judge of utility) was succeeded by instrumentalism (which implicates the idea of the utility of man, the idea of Man as mean to utility). Intelligence is no longer what organizes the organs and avails itself of them, but what services them. And it is not with impunity that the historical origins of the psychology of reaction must be sought in the works produced by the discovery of “the personal equation” of astronomers using the telescope (Maskelyne, 1796). Man was studied first as the instrument of the scientific instrument, before being studied as the instrument of all instruments.

The investigations of the laws of adaptation and learning, of the detection and measurement of aptitudes, and of the conditions of output and productivity (whether concerning individuals or groups)—investigations that are inseparable from their applications to selection or orientation—admit a common implicit postulate: the nature of Man is to be a tool, and his vocation is to be put in his place, to his task.

Nietzsche, of course, is right to say that the psychologists would like to be the “naïve and precise instruments” of this study of man. They have struggled to reach objective knowledge, even if the determinism they seek in behavior is no longer the sort of Newtonian determinism familiar to the first physicists of the 19th century, but rather a statistical determinism, progressively resting on the findings of biometrics. But what is the sense of this instrumentalism to the second power? What is it that pushes or inclines psychologists to appoint themselves, of all men, the instruments of an ambition to treat Man as an instrument? In the other types of psychology, the soul or the subject—as natural form or consciousness of interiority—is the principle used to justify the value a certain idea of Man


Foucault Studies, No. 21, pp. 200-213.

relative to the truth of things. But for a psychology in which the word “soul” causes flight and the word “consciousness” laughter, the truth of Man is captured by the fact that there is no longer any idea of Man as anything other than a tool. We must recognize that to talk about the idea of a tool, it is necessary that not every idea belong to the rank of a tool; and that in order to assign a value to a tool, it is precisely necessary that not every value be that of a tool whose subordinate value consists in procuring some other thing. Now, if the psychologist cannot derive his psychological project from an idea of man, does he think he can justify this project with his behavior of the utilization of man? We say it well, “his behavior of utilization,” in spite of two possible objections. Someone could say that, in a way, this type of psychology does not ignore the distinction between theory and application and, in another way, that this utilization is not ultimately the doing of the psychologist himself but of the person or persons who ask him for reports and diagnostics. We will respond that, unless one is going to confuse the theoretician of psychology with the professor of psychology, one must recognize that the contemporary psychologist is, more often than not, a practicing professional whose “science” is completely motivated by that search for “laws” of adaptation to a socio-technological environment—not to a natural environment—, for that which confers on his operations of “measure” a signification of evaluation and a range of expertise. In this way the behavior of the psychologist of human behavior involves, almost by necessity, a feeling of superiority, a good dirigist conscience, the mentality of a manager of the relations between man and man. That is why we must go back to the cynical question: who designates psychologists as the instruments of instrumentalism? How do we recognize those men who are worthy of assigning to instrument-man [l’homme-instrument] his role and function? Who counsels the counselors?

Needless to say, we do not place ourselves on the terrain of capacities and technique. Whether there are good or bad psychologists—that is to say, technicians skilled due to learning and technicians noxious due to stupidity not forbidden by law—is not the issue. The issue is that a science or a scientific technique do not contain, within themselves, any idea that could confer them their sense. In his Introduction to Psychology, Paul Guillaume described the psychology of a man taking a test. The subject [le testé] defends himself against this investigation, fearing that an action is being exercise over it. Guillaume sees in this state of mind an acknowledgement of the efficacy of the test. But one could also see here the embryo of the psychology of the tester. The defense of the subject being tested is the repugnance of seeing itself treated like an insect by a man who is not recognized as having the authority to tell him what he is or what he must do. “To treat like an insect,” the word is from Stendhal, who


Canguilhem: What is Psychology?

takes it from Cuvier.11 What if we treated the psychologist like an insect? What if we applied to the dismal and insipid Kinsey, for example, Stendhal’s recommendation?

In other words, in 19th and 20th centuries, the psychology of reaction and behavior thought it made itself independent by separating itself form all philosophy, that is to say, from the kind of speculation that looks for an idea of Man beyond the biological and sociological facts. But this psychology could not prevent the recurrence of its results in the behavior of those who obtain them. And, to the extend that one forbids philosophy from furnishing the answer, the question “What is psychology?” becomes “In doing what they do, what do psychologists hope to accomplish?” “In the name of what are they instituted psychologists?” When Gideon takes command as the head of the Israelites and escorts the Midianites beyond the Jordan (The Bible: Judges, Book VII), he uses a test of two degrees that permits him to keep only ten thousand out of thirty-two thousand men, and then three hundred out of ten thousand. But this test owes to the Eternal the finalization of its use and the process of selection used. To select a selector, it is normally necessary to transcend the blueprint of technical selection procedures. In the immanence of scientific psychology, the question remains: Who has, not the competence, but the mission of being a psychologist? Psychology always relies on an doubling up [dédoublement], but this is no longer the doubling of consciousness (according to the facts and norms entailed by the idea of man); it is the doubling of a mass of “subjects” and of an elite corporation of specialists who invest themselves with their proper mission.

In Kant and Maine de Biran, psychology situates itself in an Anthropology, which is to say—despite the ambiguity, much in vogue today, of this term—in a philosophy. In Kant, the general theory of human ability is still connected to a theory of wisdom [sagesse]. Instrumental psychology presents itself as a general theory of ability outside any reference to wisdom. If we cannot define this psychology via an idea of man, that is to say, if we cannot situate psychology within philosophy, we do not have the power to prevent anyone from just considering themselves “psychologists” and calling whatever they do “psychology.” But neither can we prevent philosophy from continuing to interrogate the ill-defined status of psychology, ill-defined from the viewpoint of the sciences as much as from that of techniques. In doing this, philosophy carries itself with a constitutive ingenuity that is so different from gullibility that it does not exclude a provisional cynicism. This ingenuity leads philosophy to return, once again, to the common sector, to the side of non-specialists.

It is rather vulgarly, then, that philosophy poses to psychology the question: tell me what you aim for so that I may find out what you are? But a philosopher can also address

11 “Instead of hating the small bookseller of the neighboring town who sells the Popular Almanac, I used to say to my friend Mr. de Ranville to apply to him the remedy indicated by Cuvier: treat him like an insect. Find out what are his means of sustenance, try to guess his ways of making love” (Stendhal, Mémoires d’un Touriste, Calmann-Lévy (ed.), Book 2, page 23).


Foucault Studies, No. 21, pp. 200-213.

himself to the psychologist in the form of offering orientation advice (one time does not a habit make!), and say to him: when one leaves the Sorbonne by the street Saint-Jacques, one can ascend or descend; if one ascends, one approaches the Pantheon, the conservatory of great men; but if one descends, one heads directly to the Police Department.

Georges Canguilhem Transl

Arrangement of the elements

New Scientist

Chemists can’t agree on the best way to arrange the elements, prompting proposals of everything from spiral-shaped alternatives to radically elongated versions


Physics 26 February 2019

new periodic table

This reimagining of the periodic table, proposed by chemist Theodor Benfey in 1964, emphasises the continuity of the elements rather than imposing artificial breaks

By Joshua Howgego

RUN your fingers over the white keys of a piano. The notes get higher and higher as your hand moves to the right. On the eighth key, something beautiful happens: a note hangs in the air that embodies something of the first, only with a different pitch.

We began to twig that something similar was going on with the chemical elements more than 150 years ago. Scientists even called it the law of octaves. And it is this repetition in the properties of the elements that the periodic table captures so beautifully. Similar elements end up stacked in columns or groups. One group comprises noble gases like argon and neon that barely react with anything, another contains reactive metals, some of which, like francium, explode on contact with water.

Read more: The true story of the birth of the periodic table, 150 years ago

But there are doubts over whether the periodic table is in the best possible configuration. Just as notes can be arranged in various ways to produce music, so the essence of the relationships between the elements could be depicted differently. There is no easy way to judge which is better, or more “true”. So arguments over perceived flaws in the current arrangement rumble on, with some chemists arguing that certain elements should be relocated – and others working on more radical ways to recompose the table.

At first, the elements were organised by atomic weight. Now we order them by the number of protons in their nucleus. We also know that their properties are largely determined by the arrangement of the negatively charged electrons that orbit in successive shells around the nucleus.

“One proposed redesign looks like a Christmas tree”

The lightest elements have just one shell, which can hold two of these particles. Heavier elements have more shells that can hold larger numbers of electrons. What really matters for each element’s behaviour, however, is how many electrons it has in its outer shell.

That number tends to fit nicely with the way the table is arranged, namely to place elements with similar properties in the same group. For instance, group 1 elements have one electron in their outer shell and those in group 2 have two. But it doesn’t always fit together quite as neatly as all that.

Where does hydrogen go?

Take the first element. Hydrogen has one electron in its outermost shell so you might assume it belongs exactly where it is, in group 1 above lithium and sodium, which also have one electron in their outermost shell. Yet hydrogen is a gas, not a metal, so its properties don’t fit.

The complication arises because, with an outer shell that can only hold two electrons, hydrogen is one electron away from being full. Given that elements yearn for full outer shells, that makes it very reactive. In this sense, hydrogen resembles the elements in group 17, namely the halogens like chlorine. Their outer shells need only gain one electron to achieve a full shell of eight, which makes them similarly reactive. In terms of its properties, then, hydrogen is closer to chlorine than lithium.

Read more: Elements quiz: How well do you know the periodic table?

Why are mercury and gold so weird?

Lower down the table there are no available spaces for misplaced elements. Even so, a couple of the incumbents look like outliers. Take mercury, also known as quicksilver because it is a liquid at room temperature. In that sense, it is quite different to the other members of group 12, including zinc and cadmium, which are all solid metals. What gives?

The further down the table you go, the more of the positively charged protons an element’s nucleus contains. This creates a stronger pull on the orbiting electrons, meaning they must travel faster and faster. By the time you reach mercury, the electrons are travelling at 58 per cent of the speed of light. According to Einstein’s special theory of relativity, this means their effective mass is significantly higher than an electron’s normal mass, which exacerbates the inward pull they feel.

The upshot is that mercury’s electrons orbit so tightly that they can’t be shared to form bonds with other atoms, as is required to make a solid. The same thing explains why gold is gold, a unique colour among metals: relativistic effects change the way electrons absorb light.

The illusion of order

The F-block conundrum

Group 3 holds two elements that might belong elsewhere. As we move across the upper rows of the table, electrons fill up shells in a sequence of so-called orbitals, waiting until the innermost shell is full before entering the next. By element 57, lanthanum, the electrons begin to enter a new type of orbital, an f-orbital. To account for this, most periodic tables hive off the elements making up this f-block, putting it below the table, leaving a gap in group 3.

Fair enough. But there is debate over which of the elements in the f-block should come first. Some chemists maintain that the decision should come down to electron configuration, which would leave the table as it is, with lanthanum and actinium at the left-hand end of the f-block. Others point out that chemical properties such as atomic radius and melting point make lutetium and lawrencium, currently at the right end, a better bet. In 2016, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry assembled a task group to settle the argument. But no one expects a decision soon.

Starting over

All these niggles have persuaded some chemists that we need to redraw the periodic table – and there is no shortage of ideas. Mark Leach at Manchester Metropolitan University, UK, keeps the internet database of periodic tables, which contains hundreds of versions.

In an attempt to better represent the continuity where one row currently ends, retired Canadian chemist Fernando Dufour developed a 3D periodic system that looks like a Christmas tree, with the elements radiating from a trunk in circles that get larger closer to the bottom. An alternative is the spiral developed by Theodor Benfey, which allows the f-block to bulge outwards (see main image, above).

Going long

Eric Scerri at the University of California, Los Angeles, is among those who has argued for more fundamental changes. He previously proposed that the table could be arranged to maximise the number of “triads”, sets of three elements that share similar properties and are related by their atomic weights. These days, he is backing an even more drastic approach: make the table not 18 but 32 columns by slotting all 30 f-block elements between the current groups 2 and 3 (see “Going long”). This allows the atomic number to run in an uninterrupted sequence.

But Guillermo Restrepo at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences, Germany, favours an alternative. He has explored whether chemical similarity of elements in the same columns still holds as well as it did 150 years ago, given our increased knowledge of chemical reactivity. His conclusion is that lanthanum belongs in group 3 – that is, out of sequence.

Redesigning the periodic table might seem a quixotic quest, but it could soon take on a new urgency. We are already on the trail of element 119. Where it will go, and how the table will morph to make space for it, remains to be seen.

Habermas and Pragmatism

Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 2004.03.07,
Aboulafia, Mitchell, Myra Bookman, and Catherine Kemp (eds.), Habermas and Pragmatism, Routledge, 2002, 256pp.
Reviewed by Christopher F. Zurn, University of Kentucky
This volume is a well-conceived and important new addition to the secondary literature on the wide-ranging philosophical work of Jürgen Habermas. …
…The volume is capped by the short three-part “Postscript: Some Concluding Remarks” by Habermas, consisting of, first, a “Response” that acknowledges his debt to the contributors and briefly responds to specific criticisms presented in the volume by Apel and Michelman, second “Reflections on Pragmatism” in the form of responses to six questions posed by Aboulafia to Habermas concerning his relationship to the work of the American pragmatists, and third a short, previously untranslated Die Zeit piece from 1998 “On John Dewey’s Quest for Certainty.”
In this “Postscript,” Aboulafia receives Habermas’s pithiest response to the question “What are the greatest strengths of pragmatism?”: “The combination of fallibilism with anti-skepticism, and a naturalist approach to the human mind and its culture that refuses to yield to any kind of scientism” (p. 228). Of course, we can read this claim not only as a relatively dispassionate assessment of the history of philosophical movements, but also as a self-attribution of what Habermas himself hopes to have achieved in his work by drawing on specific pragmatist insights and philosophical strategies.
Stylizing somewhat, we might even speculate that Habermas aims for a measure of anti-skeptical fallibilism in his methodological and epistemological projects by drawing on C. S. Peirce’s attempt to save the cognitive content of the Kantian ideas of reason without recourse, however, to a metaphysical appeal to the noumenal realm. Perhaps he hopes to have achieved an anti-scientistic—let us say, anti-reductivist—but nevertheless naturalistic theory of human culture and subjectivity by drawing on G. H. Mead’s account of human ontogenesis and phylogenesis in terms of universal structures developed through intersubjective symbolic interaction. The strategy that Habermas shares with Peirce is two-fold: on the one hand, an empirical, hence fallibilistic, appeal to the unavoidable presuppositions built into the everyday use of language, and, on the other hand, an idealizing, hence anti-skeptical, appeal to the meaning of epistemic presuppositions in terms of an asymptotic progress towards truth and objectivity as achieved by an unlimited community of problem-solving interlocutors. The strategy that Habermas shares with Mead is also two-fold: on the one-hand, an appeal to the best contemporary naturalistic accounts of individual and socio-cultural development in terms of the irreducibly intersubjective structures of language use, without, on the other hand, supposing that one could simply ignore the normativity of such developmental structures through a positivistic reduction of the problems of the social sciences and philosophy to the results of the so-called ’hard’ sciences and thereby sidestep the difficult hermeneutic issues raised by the linguistic milieu of the structures.
Of course, realizing such aspirations towards an anti-skeptical fallibilism and an anti-reductivist naturalism involves one in a sort of philosophical high-wire act, finding just the right path between the dead-ends of dogmatism and skepticism, between over-confident rationalism and a dismissal of philosophy as passé. This volume attests to both the interest and the precariousness of that balance through a compelling series of essays which add weight to one or another side in their respective attempts to show the unsustainable character of Habermas’s theoretical equilibrium.
Contemporary English-language philosophers who sail under the banner of pragmatism are, of course, somewhat more skeptical than Habermas about the possibilities for any non-metaphysical, naturalistic, and fully fallibilistic account—no matter how ’detranscendentalized’—of Kantian and post-Kantian ideas of reason such as unconditional truth, objectivity, rational accountability, freedom, normativity, linguistic universals, context-transcendent justification, and so on. …
… By bringing Habermas’s work into explicit conversation with both historical and contemporary forms of philosophical pragmatism, Aboulafia, Bookman and Kemp have put together a book that will be of service to specialists and those new to the field alike. It should also provoke further debates about the tenability of Habermas’s pragmatist-inspired high-wire act, balancing between fallibilism and skepticism, as well as between naturalism and reductivism.