Hosei Erasmus Mundus Program Euro Pholosophy

Hosei Erasmus Mundus Program, Euro Pholosophy - Over the two academic years 2008-9 and 2009-10 at Hosei University, classes for the first semester of "Euro Philosophy", an EU Erasmus Mundus Master Program, have taken the form of one-month intensive lecture series. This is the first instance in Japan of administering such a large-scale intensive lecture series within the Erasmus Mundus Master Program.

Report

Jean Gayon Lecture Meeting (University of Tokyo) (2013)

A lecture meeting given by Professor Jean Gayon of University of Paris I was held in Conference Room I of the Faculty of Education, on the Hongo Campus of the University of Tokyo from 4pm on Saturday, 6 April. Title of his presentation on this occasion was « On the Problems of Human Enhancement ». The presentation was based on the following scholarship by Professor Gayon : Simone Bateman and Jean Gayon, « L'amélioration humaine : trois usages, trois enjeux », Médecine/Sciences, n° 10, vol. 28 (October 2012), 887-891.

« Human enhancement » refers to the enhancement, from its present state, of the intellectual and physical capacity of humans, based on neuroscience and cell biology. The aim of Professor Gayon's presentation lay in an overall consideration of what results it brings to us humans, whilst examining research trends to date. In particular, discussion developed with attention to the three different perspectives of « human capacity », « human nature » and « self ».

The first enhancement, « human capacity » , is based on the premise that the human race evolves through hereditary and technological interventions. Characteristic examples were raised that in medicine involve the application of medical methods for non-medical enlargement. They include physical growth by the taking of growth hormones, and increasing of memory by drugs for Alzheimer's disease.

The second enhancement, « human nature » does not only originate in abstract theories ; it is also related to the various fields of philosophy and politics, ethics and religion etc. Examples explaining this can be found in the notion of progress of Condorcet (1743-1794), arguments in eugenics by Francis Galton (1822-1911), and, in recent years, George Annas, and work on applied ethics by John Harris.

The third enhancement, « self » depends mainly on the subjective interpretation of an individual, and the search for « self identity » can be said to lie at its foundation. In particular, in the context of human enhancement, we can consider the enhancement of self as based in the natural desire of humans to improve ones condition, by measuring change in personality through medication etc. On the other hand, however, self identity is brought to the verge of crisis by this, and such a paradoxical nuance is also contained in the problem.

Thus, human enhancement of worldwide notoriety over recent years is said to bring many benefits to humankind, but is also thought to cause many ethical problems. The notion is enveloped by pro and con arguments : during the question and answer time following the presentation, various opinions were exchanged that touched upon topics in the latest scientific technology such as IPS cells. It was a clear as well as precise presentation worthy of a leading scholar of French Epistemology.

Professor Gayon
Scene in the hall
Question time ; from right, Professors Abiko, Caeymaex and Ronchi
Professor Gayon and Chair, Professor Osamu Kanamori

Classes by Professor Rocco Ronchi (2013)

A series of 6 classes was given by Professor Rocco Ronchi of University of L'Aquila, Italy. Theme of the lectures was "About Absolute Immanence (Vers l'immanence absolue)". Professor Ronchi, who specialises in the philosophy of Bergson etc., is concerned with the reform of the concept of "creation (devenir)" from the perspective of "absolute immanence". Examples of his recent scholarship are as below : Filosofia della comunicazione (Bollati Boringhieri, Torino, 2008), Filosofia teoretica. Un'introduzione (Utet, Torino, 2009)、Bergson. Una sintesi (Marinotti, Milano, 2011)、Come fare. Per una resistenza filosofica (Feltrinelli, Milano, 2012).

These classes provided a commentary on "metaphysics" chiefly in reference to An Introduction to Metaphysics (1903) by H. Bergson (1859-1941) and Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (1929) by M. Heidegger (1889-1976). Then, keywords were raised central to Bergson's arguments such as "absolute (absolu)" and "intuition", and explanation was given of the criticism of metaphysics by Bergson and also how Bergson redefined "sufficiency (plénitude)" and "continuity (continuité)". Second half of the lectures handled the various issues of "creation (devenir) ", "individuation", "act (acte) " and "life (vivant) ", referring also to Aristotle, and gave Professor Ronchi's interpretation of "absolute immanence". Modern French philosophy relevant to the content of these lectures include Cinéma 1 (1983) by G. Deleuze (1925-1995) and "auto-affection" of M. Henry (1922-2002).

The main fields within the philosophy of "metaphysics" were dealt with by these lectures. Despite mentioning a large number of philosophers, the lectures presented extremely clear arguments. Together with the lecture meeting held in the evening of the last day of classes, they provided an overall glimpse of Professor Ronchi's scholarship to date.

Professor Rocco Ronchi
Professor Ronchi answering question

Jean Gayon Lecture Meeting (Hosei University) (2013)

A lecture by Professor Jean Gayon was held on 5 April at Hosei University. The lecture was conducted in English (with an interpreter), and a Japanese translation was distributed to participants.

The title of the lecture was "Does oxygen have a function?". In biology the notion of "function" is applied to almost all research focuses. All things from organs (heart etc.) of living beings to cells and molecules are considered from the perspective of "what type of function do they carry out?" This function model is also used throughout bigger structures such as biological species and ecosystems. However, the method of ascribing to a certain unit a function that it might have is not necessarily self-evident, and is the important issue raised by this lecture.

Definition of the word "function" in biology splits largely into two. The first is according to what is called the "systemic theory", which defines the function of an organ by the role of cause and effect it has upon the larger system surrounding the living organism. The second, "etiological theory", points to the result of natural selection in the belief that the function of a certain organ is advantageous to survival. The lecture applied each of the two theories to the units of "atom and elementary molecule", "individual organism" and "species", and examined whether they could be said to hold a function.

To consider this on the level of basic elements, can oxygen be said to have a function? This cannot be stated in the case of etiological theory. No doubt the density of oxygen has an effect upon the survival of an organism, but the result of selection is the ability of the organism to make use of the oxygen in its environment, not the existence of oxygen itself. In contrast, in systemic theory, oxygen can be clearly said to have a function in its role as a structural component in the creation of a bigger system (for example the breathing process).

Results are similar in relation to individual organism and species. Characteristics commonly preserved by natural selection are limited to those advantageous to the survival of an individual organism. In other words, natural selection does not happen on a scale surpassing the individual organism. Accordingly, if etiological theory does not explain natural selection in extraordinary ways, it cannot propose that individuals or species have functions. On the other hand no such problem exists in systemic theory. It considers that each individual organism carries out a fixed role within its species, and that the species itself also holds some sort of function with the biosphere.

Rather than the inability of etiological theory to attribute function to very small units (atoms and molecules) or very big units (individuals or species) being a failing of the theory, Professor Gayon suggests it to be its strong point. Systemic theory may sound impressive, but this is simply because its lacks any materiality, and as a theory to justify the notion of function, systemic theory is insufficient. Etiological theory is the stricter theory, yet this also has many shortcomings.

The lecture concluded that if etiological theory were correct, it would mean that the notion of function itself would rely on the theory of natural selection. In other words, to declare that a certain thing has some function would have as its premise that the thing had origins according to evolutionary theory.

In its intensity of content, the lecture brought together all that had been achieved in the classes held over the previous days. It provided a glimpse into the ambiguity of essence of biology as academic discipline, and its close relationship with the theory of evolution.

Scene in the hall
(from right) Professor Jean Gayon, Mr Taizo Kijima(interpreter)