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History of Science Brown Bag

April 22 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Science and Liberalism: Biology as Critique in 20-Century France

Isabel Gabel
University of Chicago

Friday, April 22, 2022
12:00-1:0o PM
Curti Lounge (Rm 5233 Mosse Humanities Bldg)

Much appears to be at stake in the current crisis of scientific truth, above all, we are to believe, the future of liberal democracy. Meanwhile in the last two decades, some commentators have wondered whether the French theoretical tradition, and poststructuralism especially, is ultimately to blame for setting in motion an unstoppable critique of scientific authority. In this talk, I argue that the contemporary conflation of scientific authority with robust liberalism obscures a much more complicated story about the relationship between science and liberalism in the French context from which poststructuralism emerged. Specifically, I demonstrate that the rise of molecular biology in the 1960s was not only a scientific event but a political one that enacted new boundaries between the scientific and the philosophical and created an apparent alignment between emergent French liberalism and objective truth. To illustrate this transformation, the talk centers on two moments in this history: the first is the neo-Lamarckian epistemological crisis of the 1930s that informed the early work of Raymond Aron, who later became the most influential liberal intellectual in France; the second is a 1968 encounter between the molecular biologist Jacques Monod, who had recently won a Nobel Prize for his work on mRNA, and the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser.

All Brown Bags are held virtually on Zoom (unless otherwise noted) from 12:00-1:00 PM on Fridays.

Future HSMT Brown Bags

  • Friday, May 6 / 12-1PM
    Location TBA


April 22
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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Madison, WI United States