Anca-Maria Pop profile

Anca Pop

Anca-Maria Pop

Royal Holloway University of London (2023)


Professor Nathan Widder


Canguilhem, Ruyer and Simondon – A Philosophy of Life Sciences à la Française


This thesis will examine a heretofore uncharted ‘moment’ in continental philosophy of science: mid-20th-century French biological thought, which consisted of a uniquely fecund exchange between philosophy and nascent psycho-biological sciences. In doing so, it will contribute to critical approaches within today's expanding scholarly problematisation of ‘life’ which, spurred on by multiple challenges to natural and human systems, have launched calls that the contemporary 'biological turn' be steered away from a narrowly scientistic engagement with life and consciousness and an alliance between the sciences, arts, and humanities be embraced instead. My research will demonstrate how this period in French philosophy provides key lessons for what such an alliance should look like today.

The thesis will be a first-time comparative analysis of French philosophers Georges Canguilhem, Raymond Ruyer and Gilbert Simondon. Over several decades (1940-1970), they actively reckoned with advancements in life sciences. I contend that an original metaphysics of life qua philosophy of life sciences à la française emerged during those engagements, with an innovative association between philosophical thought and scientific knowledge lodged at the heart of redefining the relation between material, biological and mental realities.

Combining a history of philosophy approach with in-depth interpretation of philosophical and scientific concepts, the thesis will first show how a uniquely productive exchange between life sciences and philosophy shaped French philosophy at the dawn of the 20th century. It will then unpack Canguilhem’s, Ruyer’s and Simondon’s wide-ranging scholarships, revealing how each developed a central biological orientation. Third, it will examine how the three philosophers converged around refashioning both the materialist monism of life sciences and the tradition of vitalist dualism, resulting in a special kind of life-based and metaphysical monism. Finally, it will demonstrate the invaluable contributions this French bio-philosophical framework makes to increasingly self-critical and philosophically-minded contemporary re-interrogations on life within bio-cognitive sciences.