Theses Doctoral

Biology and the Philosophy of History in Mid-Twentieth-Century France

Gabel, Isabel

In the mid-twentieth century, French philosophers looked to contemporary biological research as they attempted to come to grips with the philosophical and historical crises of the previous decades. My dissertation provides a genealogy of the relationship between developments in the fields of evolutionary theory, genetics, and embryology, and the emergence of French structuralism and posthumanist history. The story centers around two generations of French philosophers, including Raymond Aron, Georges Canguilhem, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Raymond Ruyer, and the biologists they turned to as resources for their philosophy, including Maurice Caullery, George E. Coghill, Étienne Rabaud, and Étienne Wolff. As I show, because these philosophers did not look to “life” as a metaphor or to “science” understood as either mere ideology or pure rationality, but instead grappled directly with the specific content of evolutionary theory, embryology, and genetics, biology profoundly reshaped the philosophical concepts of human and history.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Gabel_columbia_0054D_12975.pdf Gabel_columbia_0054D_12975.pdf application/pdf 2.36 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Moyn, Samuel
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 5, 2015