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REFLECTIONS ON JACQUES MONOD'S "CHANCE AND NECESSITY"* BERNARD STRAUSSt and ERICA ARONSONi Jacques Monod has played a major role in developing the present concept of the mechanism by which organisms most efficiently adapt themselves to their environment. In Chance and Necessity he attempts a generalization of his findings to include not only the properties and behavior of all living things, but also to argue for a particular political system and philosophy of human life. He sees it as the duty of scientists to "apprehend their discipline within the larger framework of modern culture, with a view to enriching the latter not only with technically important findings, but also with what they may feel to be humanly significant ideas." If Monod has fallen short of his goal, it is certainly not for want of wit or erudition, for it may well be that his aim cannot be realized within the framework on which he insists. The book is divided into roughly three parts. First, Monod attempts to offer a rationale for a mechanistic view of the biosphere and a critique of earlier theories. This is followed by a detailed analysis of the mechanical principles operating in organisms. The final section is devoted to a discussion of man's role in the scheme of things and the political and ethical norms he must observe to perfect his existence. Monod argues that "the biosphere does not contain a predictable class of objects or of events but constitutes a particular occurrence, compatible indeed with first principles, but not deducible from those principles and, therefore, essentially unpredictable." This accounts for one of the two terms we find in the title, the element of chance. * By Jacques Monod. Translated from the French edition (Paris, 1970) by Austryn Wainhouse. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1971. Pp. 204. |6.95. t Committee on Genetics, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60637. ? Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature, Roosevelt University , Chicago, Illinois 60605. 622 I Bernard Strauss and Erica Aronson ยท Chance and Necessity Given the chaos of the "primeval soup," it was most unlikely that organisms endowed with the property of invariance would emerge, that is to say, the original occurrence was neither preordained nor inevitable. Once it had occurred, however, it transformed the physical world so as to preclude its happening again. Henceforth, successive generations would, by necessity, reflect their parentage. Monod sees in nature two basic principles which are, ultimately, contradictory. The first is that nature is objective. This means that things in nature are the result of the "free play of physical forces" to which we cannot attribute any design or purpose. Yet, there is also what Monod calls a "teleonomic" principle at work. If we observe a piece of machinery, we note that its maker has designed it for a particular purpose, and this purpose can be observed in its structure and in its performance. This is equally true of living organisms, except that there is no apparent efficient cause, that is, no one, or nothing, responsible for the design and function of the organism. Monod invents the term "teleonomy" to describe the purposive behavior of the biosphere and of artifacts and to distinguish it from the purposeless, nonliving universe. This teleonomic character of living organisms, the fact that they act projectively, appears to contradict the principle of objectivity. Yet, Monod is awed by the perfection, by the "complexity, subtlety and efficiency of the chemical machinery." His emphasis on this aspect in the behavior of organisms reduces the principle of objectivity to the status of a hypothesis, adopted for its usefulness in scientific inquiry. Monod admits that it is "forever undemonstrable," although he continues as if its truth were established beyond any reasonable doubt. In fact, his technical discussion is based on a molecular explanation of the teleonomic behavior of organisms, as if this involved no contradiction at all. Once chosen, the principle of objectivity becomes ethically binding, although Monod does not indicate why this is so nor why it should be preferred to any other principle. By rejecting the possibility of an order, a teleology, be it natural or divine, he deprives the principle of an underpinning, an external norm against which...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 622-629
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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