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Improper Life

Technology and Biopolitics from Heidegger to Agamben

Timothy C. Campbell

Has biopolitics actually become thanatopolitics, a field of study obsessed with death? Is there something about the nature of biopolitical thought today that makes it impossible to deploy affirmatively? If this is true, what can life-minded thinkers put forward as the merits of biopolitical reflection? These questions drive Improper Life, Timothy C. Campbell’s dexterous inquiry-as-intervention.

Campbell argues that a “crypto-thanatopolitics” can be teased out of Heidegger’s critique of technology and that some of the leading scholars of biopolitics—including Michel Foucault, Giorgio Agamben, and Peter Sloterdijk—have been substantively influenced by Heidegger’s thought, particularly his reading of proper and improper writing. In fact, Campbell shows how all of these philosophers have pointed toward a tragic, thanatopolitical destination as somehow an inevitable result of technology. But in Improper Life he articulates a corrective biopolitics that can begin with rereadings of Foucault (especially his late work regarding the care and technologies of the self), Freud (notably his writings on the drives and negation), and Gilles Deleuze (particularly in the relation of attention to aesthetics).

Throughout Improper Life, Campbell insists that biopolitics can become more positive and productively asserts an affirmative technē not thought through thanatos but rather practiced through bíos.

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Inanimation

Theories of Inorganic Life

David Wills

Inanimation is the third book by author David Wills to analyze the technology of the human. In Prosthesis, Wills traced our human attachment to external objects back to a necessity within the body itself. In Dorsality, he explored how technology is understood to function behind or before the human. Inanimation proceeds by taking literally the idea of inanimate or inorganic forms of life. Starting from a seemingly naïve question about what it means to say texts “live on” or have a “life of their own,” Inanimation develops a new theory of the inanimate.

Inanimation offers a fresh account of what life is and the ethical and political consequences that follow from this conception. Inspired by Walter Benjamin’s observation that “the idea of life and afterlife in works of art should be regarded with an entirely unmetaphorical objectivity,” the book challenges the coherence and limitations of “what lives,” arguing that there is no clear opposition between a live animate and dead inanimate. Wills identifies three major forms of inorganic life: autobiography, translation, and resonance. Informed by Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze, he explores these forms through wide-ranging case studies. He brings his panoptic vision to bear on thinkers (Descartes, Freud, Derrida, Benjamin, Carl Schmitt, Jean-Luc Nancy, Roland Barthes), writers and poets (Hélène Cixous, Paul Celan, William Carlos Williams, Ernst Jünger, James Joyce, Georges Bataille), and visual artists (Jean-François Millet, Jean-Luc Godard, Paul Klee). With panache and gusto, Wills discovers life-forms well beyond textual remainders and translations, in such disparate “places” as the act of thinking, the death drive, poetic blank space, recorded bird songs, the technology of warfare, and the heart stopped by love.


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Ingenious Genes

How Gene Regulation Networks Evolve to Control Development

Roger Sansom

A proposal for a new model of the evolution of gene regulation networks and development that draws on work from artificial intelligence and philosophy of mind.

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Intangible Materialism

The Body, Scientific Knowledge, and the Power of Language

Ronald Schleifer

Taking as his point of departure Norbert Weiner’s statement that information is basic to understanding materialism in our era, Ronald Schleifer shows how discoveries of modern physics have altered conceptions of matter and energy and the ways in which both information theory and the study of literature can enrich these conceptions. Expanding the reductive notion of “the material” as simply matter and energy, he formulates a new, more inclusive idea of materialism. Schleifer’s project attempts to bridge the divisions between the humanities and the sciences and to create a nonreductive materialism for the information age. He presents a materialistic account of human bodily experience by delving into language and literature that powerfully represents our faces, voices, hands, and pain. For example, he examines the material resources of poetic “literariness” as it is revealed in the condition of Tourette’s syndrome. Schleifer also investigates gestures of the hand in the formation of sociality, and he studies pain as both a physiological and phenomenological experience. This ambitious work explores physiological analyses, evolutionary explanations, and semiotic descriptions of materialism to reveal how aspects of physical existence discover meaning in experience.

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Interpretation

Ways of Thinking about the Sciences and the Arts

The act of interpretation occurs in nearly every area of the arts and sciences. That ubiquity serves as the inspiration for the fourteen essays of this volume, covering many of the domains in which interpretive practices are found. Individual topics include: the general nature of interpretation and its forms; comparing and contrasting interpretation and hermeneutics; culture as interpretation seen through Hegel's aesthetics; interpreting philosophical texts; methodologies for interpreting human action; interpretation in medical practice focusing on manifestations as indicators of disease; the brain and its interpretative, structured, learning and storage processes; interpreting hybrid wines and cognitive preconceptions of novel objects; and the importance of sensory perception as means of interpreting in the case of dry German Rieslings. In an interesting turn, Nicholas Rescher writes on the interpretation of philosophical texts. Then Catherine Wilson and Andreas Blank explicate and critique Rescher's theories through analysis of the mill passage from Leibniz's Monadology.

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Isaac Beeckman on Matter and Motion

Mechanical Philosophy in the Making

Klaas van Berkel

The contribution of the Dutch craftsman and scholar Isaac Beeckman to early modern scientific thought has never been properly acknowledged. Surprisingly free from the constraints of traditional natural philosophy, he developed a view of the world in which everything, from the motion of the heavens to musical harmonies, is explained by reducing it to matter in motion. His ideas deeply influenced Descartes and Gassendi. Klaas van Berkel has succeeded in unearthing and explicating Beeckman's scientific notebooks, allowing us to follow how he developed his new philosophy, almost day by day. Beeckman was almost forgotten until the discovery of his notebooks in the early twentieth century. Isaac Beeckman on Matter and Motion is the first full-length study of the ideas and motives of this remarkable figure. Van Berkel's important study first relates Beeckman's life, placing him in the religious, intellectual, educational, and social context of the Dutch Republic in its golden age. Van Berkel then analyzes the notebooks themselves and the nature and development of Beeckman's "mechanical philosophy." He demonstrates how Beeckman's artisanal background and religious convictions shaped his natural philosophy, even as the decisive influence stems from the educational philosophy of the sixteenth-century French philosopher Peter Ramus. Historians of science and the philosophy of science will find the substance of Beeckman's thought and the unraveling of its growth and development highly interesting. Van Berkel's account provides a new and comprehensive interpretation of the origins of the mechanical philosophy of nature, the philosophy that culminated in the work of Isaac Newton.

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Kant's Theory of Science

Gordon G. Brittan Jr.

While interest in Kant's philosophy has increased in recent years, very little of it has focused on his theory of science. This book gives a general account of that theory, of its motives and implications, and of the way it brought forth a new conception of the nature of philosophical thought.

To reconstruct Kant's theory of science, the author identifies unifying themes of his philosophy of mathematics and philosophy of physics, both undergirded by his distinctive logical doctrines, and shows how they come together to form a relatively consistent system of ideas. A new analysis of the structure of central arguments in the Critique of Pure Reason and the Prolegomena draws on recent developments in logic and the philosophy of science.

Professor Brittan's unified account of the philosophies of mathematics and physics explores the nature of Kant's commitment to Euclidean geometry and Newtonian mechanics as well as providing an integrated reading of the Critique of Pure Reason and the Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Contemporary ideas help both to illuminate Kant's position and to show how that position, in turn, illuminates contemporary problems in the philosophy of science.

Originally published in 1978.

The Princeton Legacy Library uses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

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The Language of Nature

Reassessing the Mathematization of Natural Philosophy in the Seventeenth Century

Geoffrey Gorham

Galileo’s dictum that the book of nature “is written in the language of mathematics” is emblematic of the accepted view that the scientific revolution hinged on the conceptual and methodological integration of mathematics and natural philosophy. Although the mathematization of nature is a distinctive and crucial feature of the emergence of modern science in the seventeenth century, this volume shows that it was a far more complex, contested, and context-dependent phenomenon than the received historiography has indicated, and that philosophical controversies about the implications of mathematization cannot be understood in isolation from broader social developments related to the status and practice of mathematics in various commercial, political, and academic institutions.

Contributors: Roger Ariew, U of South Florida; Richard T. W. Arthur, McMaster U; Lesley B. Cormack, U of Alberta; Daniel Garber, Princeton U; Ursula Goldenbaum, Emory U; Dana Jalobeanu, U of Bucharest; Douglas Jesseph, U of South Florida; Carla Rita Palmerino, Radboud U, Nijmegen and Open U of the Netherlands; Eileen Reeves, Princeton U; Christopher Smeenk, Western U; Justin E. H. Smith, U of Paris 7; Kurt Smith, Bloomsburg U of Pennsylvania.

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The Language of Plants

Science, Philosophy, Literature

Monica Gagliano

The eighteenth-century naturalist Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles) argued that plants are animate, living beings and attributed them sensation, movement, and a certain degree of mental activity, emphasizing the continuity between humankind and plant existence. Two centuries later, the understanding of plants as active and communicative organisms has reemerged in such diverse fields as plant neurobiology, philosophical posthumanism, and ecocriticism. The Language of Plants brings together groundbreaking essays from across the disciplines to foster a dialogue between the biological sciences and the humanities and to reconsider our relation to the vegetal world in new ethical and political terms.

Viewing plants as sophisticated information-processing organisms with complex communication strategies (they can sense and respond to environmental cues and play an active role in their own survival and reproduction through chemical languages) radically transforms our notion of plants as unresponsive beings, ready to be instrumentally appropriated. By providing multifaceted understandings of plants, informed by the latest developments in evolutionary ecology, the philosophy of biology, and ecocritical theory, The Language of Plants promotes the freedom of imagination necessary for a new ecological awareness and more sustainable interactions with diverse life forms.

Contributors: Joni Adamson, Arizona State U; Nancy E. Baker, Sarah Lawrence College; Karen L. F. Houle, U of Guelph; Luce Irigaray, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris; Erin James, U of Idaho; Richard Karban, U of California at Davis; André Kessler, Cornell U; Isabel Kranz, U of Vienna; Michael Marder, U of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU); Timothy Morton, Rice U; Christian Nansen, U of California at Davis; Robert A. Raguso, Cornell U; Catriona Sandilands, York U.

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Lawless Universe

Science and the Hunt for Reality

Joe Rosen

Can science fully comprehend the whole of the material universe? Not according to Joe Rosen. There is no question that advancements in science—especially in physics—have radically changed our concept of nature, revolutionizing our view of the universe, even of reality itself. Rosen argues, though, that the material universe in its entirety lies beyond science. Anyone who claims otherwise, who proposes a scientific Theory of Everything to explain all aspects and phenomena of nature, only misleads and misinforms. Taking science—and the scientific method—down a peg, Rosen asserts that any understanding of the whole universe, if it is to be found at all, can come only from outside science, from nonscientific modes of comprehension and insight. He believes that popularizers of science—think Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins—are mistaken when they declare that science is on the verge of unlocking all the secrets of the universe. Perhaps without realizing it, they have crossed into the realm of metaphysics in an attempt to explain the unexplainable. In Lawless Universe Rosen explores just how far science can go in comprehending nature. He considers the separate—but entangled—domains of science and metaphysics and examines the all-too-often ignored boundary between the objective and the subjective. Thought-provoking and controversial, Lawless Universe is a complement to, even an antidote for, books that create the misimpression that science can explain everything.

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