- Apr 17, 2013
Professor Jean Gayon gave a series of lectures over the 3 days from 2-4 April.
Professor Gayon is a scholar of the philosophy of science specialising in biology, and these lectures took as their theme the philosophical issues encompassing various concepts used in biology.
The theme on the first day was "is it possible to apply the concept of law (loi) to biology?" Law began as a mathematical concept, which was later applied to physics and chemistry. However the laws of science were born from theoretical necessity (necéssité) rather than being founded on experience. For example, in the era when Galileo discovered the law of a falling body, no method existed that could accurately measure how an object fell. Therefore, this law had to be based on theoretical demands. The problem with applying the concept of law to biology lies in whether or not this "necessity" exists in biology. Australian philosopher John Jamieson Carswell Smart (1920-2012) responded to this in the negative. According to Smart, generalisation may exist in biology, but law does not. This is because the object in biology is type under specific classification, and there is no assurance that any regularity that can be identified has the potential to become universal. In fact, exceptions exist in the majority of events that occur in the domain of biology. Even if exceptions have not been discovered, we cannot know whether a certain living creature will bear the same characteristics in completely different conditions to its usual environment. In other words, what seems on the surface to be law in biology is actually no more than "universality of fact (universalité de facto)", and it is difficult to identify theoretical necessity therein. Therefore we can conclude that there is a high possibility of no laws existing in biology. Professor Gayon stated that even if something near to a law existed in biology, it should most probably be understood as dynamism in the process of natural selection.
The issue dealt with on the second day was that of "model (modèle) and methodology". "Model" is the method used in various fields - for example, using a model to research how an aeroplane works - however, its characteristics lie in the use of a system based on analogy to objects and phenomena in the natural world. In biology these include the "camera obscura" (a hole-in-a-box device to reconstruct optic mechanisms) used by Roger Bacon (1214-1294) in 13th century, and the helix model of DNA; these all involve the use of an analogous device to facilitate research through indirect means of something that cannot be known directly. Biologists propose a hypothesis based on such a model and attempt to construct a theory, but this is where the problem often arises of confusion between the model and actual hypothesis and theory. As a result, there are not a few hypotheses in biology based on models to an obscure extent.
The third day handled the concept of "function (fonction)" and issues surrounding it. Function is the authoritative concept in the realm of biology, and almost all things are considered from the point of view of function: that is to say, "what does that do?" The way of thinking that defines an object or phenomenon by the function it carries out is called "functional assignment (attribution fonctionnelle)". The problem with this way of thinking is that the function carried out by an object or phenomenon becomes the reason for existence of the object or phenomenon. For example, to state "the function of the heart is to pump blood around" implies at the same time that "the heart exists in order to pump blood around". In other sciences, however, for example in chemistry we cannot say things like "the role of electricity is to make possible the combination of atoms (= electricity exists in order to combine atoms)". In biology the result of a fact (pumping blood) is used to explain the phenomenon itself (the reason for existence of the heart).
These classes referred to Larry Wright's "etiological theory (théorie étiologique)" and Robert Cummins' "system theory (théorie systémique)" as theories to explain the concept of function. We shall avoid any detailed explanations of the 2 theories here; however, what can be understood from them is that the concept of function relies greatly on the theory explaining it, and that a universal definition of function does not exist to date. This suggests that the concept of function itself is a relative one.
- Apr 3, 2013
The 2013 EU Erasmus Mundus Masters "Europhilosophie" Hosei Program commenced on 1 April.
Marked by the cherry blossom in full bloom, today began with an orientation session and library tour for teaching staff and students visiting from the EU. The orientation brought their attention to matters to consider during their stay in Japan, after which they moved on to the library where user rules were explained. They then went into the stacks to look at the collection of Western philosophy.
In the afternoon a reception was held in the Boissonade Tower 26F lounge. With Professor Shin Abiko of the Faculty of Literature and Japan representative leading the proceedings, first there was a greeting from President Toshio Masuda. President Masuda spoke of the importance of the development of "Europhilosophie" at Hosei University in achieving its aim of internationalisation, and also expressed his deep gratitude to those from all universities involved in making it possible. Greetings next came from Mr Eric Hamelinck from the Delegation of the European Union to Japan and Ms Catherine Droszewski from the Cultural Section of the Embassy of France in Japan. They spoke of the great significance of how educational institutions in Japan are taking a global responsibility in providing fundamental education in philosophy - the heart of Western civilisation.
- Jun 29, 2012
The 2012 "Europhilosophie" Program came to a close at the end of June having spanned over 3 months. Just before the end, a review meeting of this year's program and the last social event were held on Wednesday, 27 June at 25F of Boissonade Tower, Hosei University.
The review meeting involved not only students and program teachers from Japan, but also staff from Hosei University International Center and the Graduate School, as well as welcoming Professor Arnaud François via Skype from France. This was the first time to hold a 3-month program, and various points of reflection and practical suggestions as regards classes and life here were discussed with a view to next year.
Afterwards, the last social event of the program was held, at which Governor Yoshiro Fukuda of Hosei University was also in attendance. Relief and satisfaction could be read on the faces of the 4 students who had successfully come through lengthy classes and workshops, and become quite familiar with Japan's different culture and national character. They met with many words of well-wishing and encouragement. The party ended having confirmed the friendships nurtured over the 3 months, and hearing promises of reunion in the near future.
＊This year's program came to a successful conclusion thanks to the cooperation of all those involved. This blog is the final one of this year. However, next year's program will commence next spring with further improvements. We look forward to everyone's continuing support and cooperation.