Open Access

Continental philosophical perspectives on life sciences and emerging technologies

Life Sciences, Society and Policy201612:8

https://doi.org/10.1186/s40504-016-0041-7

Received: 1 June 2016

Accepted: 2 June 2016

Published: 13 June 2016

Aims and scope of the thematic series

Life sciences and emerging technologies raise a plethora of issues. Besides practical, bioethical and policy issues, they have broader, cultural implications as well, affecting and reflecting our zeitgeist and world-view, challenging our understanding of life, nature and ourselves as human beings, and reframing the human condition on a planetary scale. In accordance with the aims and scope of the journal, LSSP aims to foster engaged scholarship into the societal dimensions of emerging life sciences (Chadwick and Zwart 2013) and via this thematic series, the journal provides a podium for authors who intend to address concrete issues from a ‘continental philosophical’ perspective, which may include (post)phenomenology, hermeneutics, dialectics, (post)structuralism, psychoanalysis, critical theory and similar approaches. The series aims to contribute to a diagnostics of the present and a prognostics of the future, focusing on critical normative challenges (such as embodiment, intimate technologies, social justice, biopower, nanomedicine, human enhancement and the anthropocene) and building on the work of key authors such as Hegel (1830), Heidegger (1953, 1953/1954), Bachelard (1938), Canguilhem (1975), Lacan (1966, 1969-1970/1991), Habermas (1968), Serres (1972), Foucault (1969), Žižek (2006/2009), Stiegler (2010), Sloterdijk (2001, 2009) and others, but targeting concrete up-to-date events and case studies against the backdrop of broader developments within the techno-scientific culture. Rather than as a euro-centric position, we aim to develop continental perspectives in interaction with moral deliberations currently unfolding on a truly global scale. Finally, special attention is given to genres of the imagination (novels, movies, theatre, art) as laboratories for reflection (Zwart 2014, 2016b).

‘Continental’ perspectives

Although the signifier ‘continental philosophy’ began its career as a pejorative term and remains difficult to define exactly, a common profile is nonetheless discernible among adherents (cf. Critchley 2001; Glendinning 2006). The authors mentioned above share a certain style of thinking, a common set of intellectual challenges and ideas. A family likeness can be discerned among their oeuvres. Although the authors themselves (and the scholars studying their work) often highlight the singularities of these oeuvres and the differences with other (previous or contemporary) thinkers, this emphasis on dissension may obfuscate the common ground: the discursive landscape or ambiance in which they all dwell, as voices in an unfolding dynamics of thought, engaged in a “lively, dialectical relationship with the world” (Anderson et al. 1968). Continental philosophers share the conviction, moreover, that science is not the only reliable or meaningful access to reality and they generally embrace epistemological pluralism. There are other revealing ways of experiencing and disclosing the world, such as various societal practices or art. Moreover, science as a form of world-disclosure is profoundly historical, expressing and reflecting the zeitgeist of an epoch, co-evolving with technological developments and contributing to a particular style of thinking. Also, continental philosophy grants an active role to human existence and praxis in shaping the world. Especially science is seen as a transformative practice: not only exploring, but also interacting with and reorganising the world. And continental philosophers implicitly or explicitly endorse the claim that the basic objective of philosophy is to develop a diagnostics of the present, against the backdrop of a broad temporal horizon, so that a diagnostics inevitably also involves an anamnesis of the past and a prognostic of the future. Finally, they tend to agree that we currently witness an epoch of profound disruption, of political and scientific revolutions, spreading into other realms of culture, giving rise to a metaphysical mutation. It is the objective of philosophers not only to probe and assess the profile of this transition (to capture the newly emerging zeitgeist in thought, as Hegel phrased it), but also to act as midwifes in the Socratic sense.

Themes and topics

There are a number of themes and topics which we would like to highlight explicitly as arenas for reflection:
  1. 1.

    Digitalisation. By this we mean the impact of digital tools and instruments on the pace and scale of life sciences research and on the ways in which life scientific research is conducted in terms of ambitions, methods and transdisciplinary collaborations. We would like to explore and assess the extent to which digitalisation has resulted in the emergence a new paradigm (Kuhn) or episteme (Foucault) in the terabyte age of big data research (Zwart 2016a). Notably, we want to highlight the impact of digitalisation on the position of the researchers (marginalisation and anonymisation on the one hand, compensated by the cultivation of “responsible research” on the other). Also, we want to explore and foster opportunities provided by new digital platforms for re-initiating the dialogue between life sciences and the humanities (bridging the ‘two worlds’ divide).

     
  2. 2.

    Synthetic biology: taking us from reading to rewriting genomes (Zwart 2012) and from describing the biological real to the operational practices of biotechnology (Hottois 1990), resulted in new transdisciplinary areas for research, from biomaterials and biomimicry up to the synthetic cell. These events not only open up a plethora of (beneficial or risky) innovations (Osseweijer et al. 2010), but also raise issues and questions on the ontological level, such as: the synthetic cell as a metaphysical turn or mutation, opening up a new chapter in the history of life and challenging established understandings of life, nature, technology and the role and place of human beings. On the one hand, the synthetic turn triggers awareness of the complexity of living systems, but at the same time life itself seems to become modifiable even on the molecular level. How to assess the philosophical profile of this scientific revolution?

     
  3. 3.

    Cognitive enhancement. Although emerging technologies in the neurosciences are often initially focussed on disabled individuals, this type of research basically aims at deepening our understanding of cognitive and sensory processes. Bio-electronic gadgets may allow paraplegic patients to walk again, but such devices may also ‘optimise’ what we now regard as normal functioning (Hildevoorde and Landeweerd 2010). Non-invasive stimulation devices such as tDCS, TMS, tFUS may help individuals to achieve every-day goals such as mobility, multi-sensory integration, computer-use, paying attention, relaxation, falling asleep, improving one’s gaming skills or learning. They may increasingly be used in the every-day lifeworld to optimise brain processes in ‘normal’ people who are not impaired by mental illness or cognitive disorders, boosting the ‘plasticity’ of sensory and neural systems. A continental approach moves away from neuro-centric approaches to address how such gadgets may affect our sense of embodiment and being-in-the-world, against the backdrop of broader socio-cultural developments such as cognitive capitalism and emerging collaborations and/or increasing tensions between ICT devices and humans (Lemmens 2015a, Lemmens 2015b).

     

We hereby cordially invite (teams of) authors who want to contribute to the aims and objectives of this series to submit research papers to Life Sciences, Society and Policy. As this is a thematic series (rather than a themed issue) there is no fixed deadline, and authors are explicitly encouraged to build on or critically respond to previous contributions. For further details or inquiries, please contact Hub Zwart, co-editor-in-Chief of LSSP (h.zwart@science.ru.nl).

Declarations

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors’ Affiliations

(1)
Department of Philosophy and Science Studies, Faculty of Science, Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (ISIS), Radboud University Nijmegen (the Netherlands)

References

  1. Anderson J, Kockelmans J, Schrag C. Editorial. Man and World. 1968;1:3–9.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  2. Bachelard G. La Formation de l’esprit scientifique: Contribution à une psychanalyse de la connaissance objective. Paris: Vrin; 1938.Google Scholar
  3. Canguilhem G. Études d’histoire et de philosophie des sciences. Paris: Vrin; 1975.Google Scholar
  4. Chadwick R, Zwart H. Editorial: from ELSA to responsible research and promisomics. Life Sciences Soc, Policy. 2013;9:3.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  5. Critchley S. Continental philosophy: a very short introduction. New York: Oxford University Press; 2001.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  6. Foucault M. L’archéologie du savoir. Paris: Gallimard; 1969.Google Scholar
  7. Glendinning S. The idea of continental philosophy: a philosophical chronicle. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press; 2006.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  8. Habermas J. 1968/1973. Erkenntnis und Interesse. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. 1830/1970. Enzyklopädie der philosophischen Wissenschaften im Grundrisse II: Die Naturphilosophie mit den mündlichen Zusätzen. Werke IX. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  9. Heidegger M. Einführung in die Metaphysik. Tübingen: Niemeyer; 1953a.Google Scholar
  10. Heidegger M. 1953/1954. Wissenschaft und Besinnung. In: Vorträge und Aufsätze, 45–70. Pfullingen: Neske.Google Scholar
  11. Hildevoorde I, Landeweerd L. Enhancing disabilities: transhumanism under the veil of inclusion? Disability and Rehabilitation 2010;32(26):2222–7.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  12. Hottois G. La paradigme bioéthique, Une éthique pour la technoscience. De Boeck: Bruxelles; 1990.Google Scholar
  13. Lacan J. ‘La science et la vérité’. In: Écrits. Paris: Éditions du Seuil; 1966. p. 855–77.Google Scholar
  14. Lacan, Jacques. 1969-1970/1991. Le séminaire XVII : L’envers de la psychanalyse. Paris: Éditions du Seuil.Google Scholar
  15. Lemmens P. ‘Cognitive enhancement and anthropotechnological change: towards an organology and pharmacology of cognitive enhancement Technologies’, technè. Research in Philosophy and Technology. 2015a;29(1):166–90. doi:https://doi.org/10.5840/techne20159834.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  16. Lemmens P. Social autonomy and heteronomy in the age of ICT: The digital pharmakon and the (dis)empowerment of the general intellect. Found Sci. 2015b. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s10699-015-9468-1.Google Scholar
  17. Osseweijer, Patricia, Laurens Landeweerd, Robin Pierce. 2010. Genomics in Industry: issues of a bio-based economy. Genomics, society, and policy 6 (August 2010). doi:https://doi.org/10.1186/1746-5354-6-2-26.
  18. Serres M. Hermès II: L’interférence. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit; 1972.Google Scholar
  19. Stiegler B. Ce qui fait que la vie vaut la peine d’être vécue : de la pharmacologie. Paris: Flammarion; 2010.Google Scholar
  20. Žižek S. The Parallax View. Cambridge/London: The MIT Press; 2006/2009.Google Scholar
  21. Sloterdijk P. Nicht gerettet. Versuche nach Heidegger. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp; 2001.Google Scholar
  22. Sloterdijk P. Du musst dein Leben ändern: Über Anthropotechnik. Suhrkamp: Frankfurt am Main; 2009.Google Scholar
  23. Zwart H. Limitless as a neuro-pharmaceutical experiment and as a Daseinsanalyse: on the use of fiction in preparatory debates on cognitive enhancement. Medicine, Health Care & Philosophy: a European Journal. 2014;17(1):29–38.View ArticleGoogle Scholar
  24. Zwart H. The obliteration of life: depersonalisation and disembodiment in the terabyte age. New Genetics and Society. 2016a;35(1) (online first). doi:https://doi.org/10.1080/14636778.2016.1143770 90.
  25. Zwart H. Transplantation medicine, organ theft cinema and bodily integrity. Subjectivity. 2016b;9(2):151–80. doi:https://doi.org/10.1057/sub.2016.1.Google Scholar
  26. Zwart H. On decoding and rewriting genomes: a psychoanalytical reading of a scientific revolution. Medicine, Healthcare and Philosophy: a European Journal. 2012;15(3):337–46.View ArticleGoogle Scholar

Copyright

© The Author(s). 2016