Article ID: CBB385733908

The Organism as Reality or as Fiction: Buffon and Beyond (2016)


In this paper, we reflect on the connection between the notions of organism and organisation, with a specific interest in how this bears upon the issue of the reality of the organism (or in contrast the status of these notions as constructs, whether heuristic or otherwise scientifically useful). We do this by presenting the case of Buffon, who developed complex views about the relation between the notions of “organised” and “organic” matter. We argue that, contrary to what some interpreters have suggested, these notions are not orthogonal in his thought. Also, we argue that Buffon has a view in which organisation is not just ubiquitous, but basic and fundamental in nature, and hence also fully natural. We suggest that he can hold this view because of his anti-mathematicism. Buffon’s case is interesting, in our view, because he can regard organisation, and organisms, as perfectly natural, and can admit their reality without invoking problematic supernaturalist views, and because he allows organisation and the organismal to come in kinds and degrees. Thus, his view tries to do justice to two cautionary notes for the debate on the reality of the organism: the need for a commitment to a broadly naturalist perspective, and the need to acknowledge the interesting features of organisms through which we make sense of them.

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Authors & Contributors
Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc de
Crémière, Cédric
Liebman, Elizabeth Amy
Schmitt, Stéphane
Roman, Hanna
Bednarczyk, A.
História, Ciências, Saúde---Manguinhos
Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies
Kwartalnik Historii Nauki i Techniki
Notes and Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science
Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century
H. Champion
University of Chicago
Cornell University Press
Honoré Champion
Izd-vo S.-Petersburgskogo Universiteta
Johns Hopkins University
Natural history
Primary literature (historical sources)
Visual representation; visual communication
Buffon, Georges Louis Leclerc de
Diderot, Denis
Alembert, Jean le Rond d'
Broca, Paul
Cuvier, Georges
Mirabeau, Honoré, Comte de
Time Periods
18th century
19th century
Académie des Sciences, Paris

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