Charles T. Wolfe

Senior Core Fellow
Period of Stay: 
October 2017 – June 2018
Ghent University
Project Title: 
From Vital Forces to Models of Organism. Reassessing and Reconstructing Enlightenment Vitalism
Project Abstract: 

The project is to produce a definite philosophical treatment of Enlightenment vitalism dealing with its philosophy of science, account of mind and body, and relation to competing theories of machines and organisms. Vitalism, the medico-philosophical focus on the uniqueness of biological life, has a complex relation with the development and change of biology and medicine as sciences, and Enlightenment vitalism is its most diverse philosophical form – not least in its ‘speculative’ materialist presentation, in Diderot’s ‘D’Alembert’s Dream’ with its metaphysics of living matter. It has never been studied carefully, combining philosophical and history-of-science approaches before. The project should also shed new light on Enlightenment science and radical thought and the transformations of the philosophy of life. The ensuing monograph will supersede existing work by being more philosophically focused than the intellectual histories of Enlightenment science and literature, and more historically sophisticated than mainstream philosophy of science, arguing that Enlightenment vitalism was not a theory of mysterious ‘vital forces’ but rather a heuristically driven, mechanism-friendly analysis of living organisms in a broad medico-philosophical context.

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