Canguilhem and the Machine Metaphor in Life Sciences: History of Science and Philosophy of Biology at the Service of Sciences

Océane Fiant


The metaphor is used in the construction process of scientific knowledge. There are, however, metaphors that do not suit the objects they should represent, which thus impacts the accuracy of the knowledge which derives from these objects. It is the case of the machine metaphor, when resorted to in the study of living organisms. Canguilhem has tackled problems it created in twentieth-century life sciences head on. In his criticism, he links the analysis of Descartes’ work to his own philosophical thesis on “biological normativity”. By doing so, he so sheds a light on the pitfalls, both historical and biological, over which the machine metaphor stumbles. He thereby orders sciences to periodically make sure of the relevance of their metaphors and explanatory models to their objects.


Metaphor; History of science; Philosophy of biology; Descartes; Scientific practices

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ISSN: 2526-2270

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