Max Planck Institute for The History of Science
  • Is the Cell Really a Machine?
    Journal of Theoretical Biology 477. 2019.
    It has become customary to conceptualize the living cell as an intricate piece of machinery, different to a man-made machine only in terms of its superior complexity. This familiar understanding grounds the conviction that a cell's organization can be explained reductionistically, as well as the idea that its molecular pathways can be construed as deterministic circuits. The machine conception of the cell owes a great deal of its success to the methods traditionally used in molecular biology. Ho…Read more
  • Philosophy of Biology Before Biology (edited book)
    Cécilia Bognon-Küss and Charles T. Wolfe
    Routledge. 2019.
    Philosophy of biology before biology Edited by Cécilia Bognon-Küss & Charles T. Wolfe   Table of contents Cécilia Bognon-Küss & Charles T. Wolfe. Introduction 1. Cécilia Bognon-Küss & Charles T. Wolfe. The idea of “philosophy of biology before biology”: a methodological provocation Part I. FORM AND DEVELOPMENT 2. Stéphane Schmitt. Buffon’s theories of generation and the changing dialectics of molds and molecules 3. Phillip Sloan. Metaphysics and “Vital” Materialism: The Gabrielle Du Châtelet…Read more
  • From 'Circumstances' to 'Environment': Herbert Spencer and the Origins of the Idea of Organism–Environment Interaction
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 41 (3): 241-252. 2010.
    The word ‘environment’ has a history. Before the mid-nineteenth century, the idea of a singular, abstract entity—the organism—interacting with another singular, abstract entity—the environment—was virtually unknown. In this paper I trace how the idea of a plurality of external conditions or circumstances was replaced by the idea of a singular environment. The central figure behind this shift, at least in Anglo-American intellectual life, was the philosopher Herbert Spencer. I examine Spencer’s w…Read more
  • “Protoplasm Feels”: The Role of Physiology in Charles Sanders Peirce’s Evolutionary Metaphysics
    Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 8 (1): 28-61. 2018.
    This essay is an attempt to explain why Charles Sanders Peirce’s evolutionary metaphysics would not have seemed strange to its original 1890s audience. Building on the pioneering work of Andrew Reynolds, I will excavate the scientific context of Peirce’s Monist articles—in particular “The Law of Mind” and “Man’s Glassy Essence,” both published in 1892—focusing on the relationship between protoplasm, evolution, and consciousness. I argue that Peirce’s discussions should be understood in the conte…Read more