"Grene and Hull on Types and Typological Thinking in Biology," Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 50 (2015): 13-25.
Abstract: Marjorie Grene (1910-2009) and David Hull (1935-2010) were among the most influential voices in late twentieth-century philosophy of biology. But, as Grene and Hull pointed out in published discussions of one another’s work over the course of nearly forty years, they disagreed strongly on fundamental issues. Among these contested issues is the role of what is sometimes called “typology” and “typological thinking” in biology. In regard to taxonomy and the species problem, Hull joined Ernst Mayr’s construal of typological thinking as a backward relic of pre-Darwinian science that should be overcome. Grene, however, treated the suspicion of typological thinking that characterized Hull’s views, as well as those of other architects of the New Evolutionary Synthesis, as itself suspicious and even unsustainable. In this paper I review three debates between Grene and Hull bearing on the question of the validity of so-called typological thinking in biology: (1) a debate about the dispensability of concepts of “type” within evolutionary theory, paleontology, and taxonomy; (2) a debate about whether species can be adequately understood as individuals, and thereby independently of those forms of thinking Hull and Mayr had construed as “typological”; and (3) a debate about the prospects of a biologically-informed philosophy of human nature.
Published version [at Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences]
Academia.edu [author's type-script]
P. Honenberger (ed.), Naturalism and Philosophical Anthropology: Nature, Life, and the Human between Transcendental and Empirical Perspectives (Palgrave MacMillan, 2016)
Abstract: What is a human being? The twentieth and twenty-first century tradition known as 'philosophical anthropology' has approached this question with unusual sophistication, experimentalism, and subtlety. Such innovations as Arnold Gehlen's description of humans as naturally 'deficient' beings in need of artificial institutions to survive; Max Scheler's concept of 'spirit' (Geist) as the physically and organically irreducible realm of persons and spiritual acts; and Helmuth Plessner's analysis of the way human embodiment transcends spatial locations and limitations ('ex-centric positionality') have inspired generations of European intellectuals. This edited collection from an international network of scholars critically engages the philosophical anthropologies of Scheler, Plessner, Gehlen, Blumenberg, and others in unparalleled detail, showing their applicability to the themes of nature and naturalism, organic life, comparative primatology, cultural anthropology, paleoanthropology, the body, addiction, and death.
Academia.edu [link to editor's Introduction]
"Animality, Sociality, and Historicity in Helmuth Plessner’s Philosophical Anthropology," International Journal of Philosophical Studies (2015) 23 (5): 707-729.
Abstract: Axel Honneth and Hans Joas claim that Helmuth Plessner’s philosophical anthropology is problematically ‘solipsistic’ insofar as it fails to appreciate the ways in which human persons or selves are brought into being and given their characteristic powers of reflection and action by social processes. Here I review the main argument of Plessner’s Die Stufen des Organischen und der Mensch: Einleitung in die philosophische Anthropologie (1928) with this criticism in mind, giving special attention to Plessner’s accounts of organic being, personhood, language, sociality, and historicity in that text. I argue that Honneth and Joas’s criticisms understate the extent to which Plessner takes sociality to be a constitutive condition of human forms of life within the structure he calls ‘ex-centric positionality’. This reading of Plessner also provides resources for answering a more common criticism of his philosophical anthropology – namely, that it is problematically ‘essentialist’, paying insufficient heed to the historical variability and contingency of human forms of life.
Published version [at International Journal of Philosophical Studies]
Academia.edu [author's typescript]
"Naturalism, Pluralism, and the Human Place in the Worlds," in Naturalism and Philosophical Anthropology, ed. P. Honenberger (Palgrave MacMillan, 2016)
Abstract: I discuss the strengths and weaknesses of four late-modern strategies of answering the question, ‘What is the human place in nature?’, through discussion of historically significant examples of these strategies. These include naturalism as represented by Thomas Henry Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863); non-naturalism, as exemplified by Max Scheler’s philosophical anthropology; pluralism, as recently proposed by Huw Price and Helen Longino; and emergentism, represented by Helmuth Plessner’s philosophical anthropology and Lenny Moss’s metaphysics of detachment. In critically comparing these alternatives, I note a crucial distinction between place-as-location and place-as-role within discussions of the 'human place in nature'. I further draw on Ernst Cassirer’s notion of the ‘law of the series’ and Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guitarri’s notion of ‘planes of consistency’ to relate various kinds and conceptions of a human ‘place’ in nature or the world.
Published version [at Palgrave MacMillan]
Academia.edu [author's type-script]
"Eccentric Investigations of (Post-)Humanity" [Essay Review of Jos de Mul (ed.), Plessner's Philosophical Anthropology: Perspectives and Prospects. Amsterdam University Press / University of Chicago Press, 2014] , Philosophy of the Social Sciences (2016) 46 (1): 56-76.
Abstract: In 1928, a German zoologist and philosopher named Helmuth Plessner (1892-1985) published a book titled Die Stufen des Organischen und der Mensch: Einleitung in die philosophische Anthropologie. Almost 100 years later, Jos de Mul has edited a collection of 26 new essays on Plessner’s text, titled Plessner’s Philosophical Anthropology: Perspectives and Prospects. The volume offers a variety of advanced discussions of its theme. In this review essay of de Mul’s collection, I provide a critical overview of the contents of the new volume and some speculations on the possible motives and future directions of the current “Plessner renaissance.”
Published version [at Philosophy of the Social Sciences]
Academia.edu [author's type-script]
"The Poverty of Neo-Pragmatism: Rorty, Putnam, and Margolis on Realism and Relativism," in Nordic Studies in Pragmatism 2: Pragmatism, Metaphysics, and Culture -- Reflections on the Philosophy of Joseph Margolis, ed. Dirk-Martin Grube and Robert Sinclair. Helsinki: Nordic Pragmatism Network, 2015.
Abstract: A prominent late twentieth-century debate between Richard Rorty and Hilary Putnam focused on evaluating the cogency of realisms and relativisms of various sorts. Both Putnam and Rorty rejected traditional forms of realism, but Putnam went on to defend two alternative varieties of realism (in turn), while Rorty abandoned realism of any kind. At the same time, both Rorty and Putnam rejected relativism as putatively incoherent. In the midst of these developments, Joseph Margolis proposed a position that was (self-avowedly) simultaneously realist and relativist, and argued for its superiority over Rorty’s and Putnam’s alternatives. In this paper I review Putnam’s, Rorty’s, and Margolis’s arguments for their positions on the issues of realism and relativism. Mostly in agreement with Margolis, I argue for an empirically enriched construal of epistemic situations that includes attention to historically-contingent mediating factors within these situations (where these factors include languages, conceptual schemes, artifacts, and institutions, among other things). Theories formed within such contingently mediated situations lack closure, primarily due to this contingency, and thus familiar anti-realist and anti-relativist arguments (including internalist, ethnocentric, and deflationist arguments) do not succeed.
Available online here.