Luc Ferry, Jean-Didier Vincent

What Is Man? Regarding the Foundations of Biology and Philosophy Publication date : April 1, 2000

The discoveries made over the last few years in the life sciences cannot be disregarded, and the extent of their practical repercussions remains to be fully evaluated. Who will set the limits of these discoveries? What criteria will be used? What procedures will be followed? The authors believe that it is essential that biologists and philosophers work together to answer these questions.
Biological and genetic advances have revolutionised the questions that were traditionally asked about the nature of mankind. Recent discoveries have amplified the importance of the natural dimension of human beings, making us revise the spiritual notion that humans are totally distinct from other living forms. This scientific argument poses a challenge for the philosopher.
If humans are to be regarded as extensions of the animal kingdom, and as a completely integral part of the natural living world, their bodies cannot be considered as “temples” housing an immortal, sacred soul. In presenting this viewpoint, biologists are simply carrying on in the footsteps of eighteenth-century biologists who began the process of secularising Western thought.
Is it possible to take into account contemporary advances in the life sciences without being swayed by “biologism”? Is it possible to give nature its due without becoming narrowly materialistic and without negating human freedom?
How does one position human beings in the context of nature? This is the central question debated by the authors from the points of view of a philosopher and a neurobiologist, who have been working together in the Conseil National des Programmes. Their goal is not to convince each other, but to share their knowledge in order to facilitate future discussions between specialists who too often work in isolation.

Luc Ferry, a philosopher, is the author of L’Homme-Dieu ou le Sens de la Vie and the co-author of La Sagesse des Modernes, with André Comte-Sponville.
Jean-Didier Vincent, a neurobiologist, teaches at the Institut Universitaire de France, and heads the Institut Alfred Fessard at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, in Gif-sur-Yvette, near Paris. He is the author of Biologie des Passions and La Chair et le Diable, which is now available in paperback.