Nominal Species and Generation in the Nouveaux Essais.

vendredi 1er octobre, 15h50-16h20

Résumé de la communication :

The analysis of Leibniz’s conception of natural species in the New Essays is not only relevant for the philosophy of language. Contemporary debates among historians of philosophy attest to an increasing interest in the history of science, particularly the development of the physical sciences in the Scientific Revolution, in order to achieve a better understanding of modern philosophical positions. Now although anatomy and physiology were disciplinary domains pertaining to a common tradition of vocabulary, textbooks, practices and institutions since ancient times and recent historiography of science disregards them as having a relevant role in the Scientific Revolution, these disciplines had a radical transformation in modern times. The changes in natural philosophy, for example, had a great effect in physiology since it provided its theoretical framework. In the history of modern science it is commonly accepted to distinguish between natural philosophy and natural history; while the former searched for the causes of natural phenomena, the latter focused on description, giving primacy to observation over theoretical constructions. Also, some scholars have claimed that the revival of natural history in the 17th century was a result of Locke’s new epistemological approach (e.g. Philip Sloan). However, my purpose in this paper is to show that Leibniz’s conception of living species is a mediating position which relates taxonomy with the search for causes by studying the process of generation of plants and animals. He discusses Locke’s ideas, for whom our criterion of classification based on propagation is fallible, and given the way in which we form our complex ideas of natural species, we do not know their real essence but we can only reach nominal species. Moreover, since no attribute can be considered more relevant to define a species, resulting classifications have to be founded in the complex of characters of the plant or animal. Although Leibniz agrees that our species are only nominal, he thinks that it is necessary to select a distinguishing feature to determinate a physical species. This feature is not simply a changing external appearance or the essential but unknown attribute conceived as its internal constitution but what he calls a ‘civil’ specific difference, an appearance which is neither immutable nor easily changing. He also holds that external appearances are grounded in the internal constitution so we can relate the external appearance to the internal constitution. These correlations, according to Leibniz, can be achieved by investigating the processes of reproduction but it is not fully explained how he conceives this to be possible. I will attempt to offer a plausible interpretation of this view in which Leibniz combines traditional features of old physiology as well as conceptual and methodological innovations.