February 2018 Issue, History of the Human Sciences

The February 2018 issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. Full details follow below.

“From evolutionary theory to philosophy of history: Raymond Aron and the crisis of French neo-transformism,” by Isabel Gabel. Abstract:

Well into the 1940s, many French biologists rejected both Mendelian genetics and Darwinism in favour of neo-transformism, the claim that evolution proceeds by the inheritance of acquired characteristics. In 1931 the zoologist Maurice Caullery published Le Problème d’évolution, arguing that, while Lamarckian mechanisms could not be demonstrated in the present, they had nevertheless operated in the past. It was in this context that Raymond Aron expressed anxiety about the relationship between biology, history, and human autonomy in his 1938 Introduction à la philosophie de l’histoire: essai sur les limites de l’objectivité historique, in which he rejected both neo-Kantian and biological accounts of human history. Aron aspired to a philosophy of history that could explain the dual nature of human existence as fundamentally rooted in the biological, and at the same time, as a radical transcendence of natural law. I argue that Aron’s encounter with evolutionary theory at this moment of epistemic crisis in evolutionary theory was crucial to the formation of his philosophy of history, and moreover that this case study demonstrates the importance of moving beyond the methodological divisions between intellectual history and history of science.

“The strange survival and apparent resurgence of sociobiology,” by Alex Dennis. Abstract:

A recent dispute between Richard Dawkins and Edward O. Wilson concerning fundamental concepts in sociobiology is examined. It is argued that sociobiology has not fared well since the 1970s, and that its survival as a ‘scientific’ perspective has been increasingly tenuous. This is, at least in part, because it has failed to move forward in the ways its developers anticipated, but also because it has not seen the developments in natural history, genomics and social science it was relying upon. It is argued that sociobiology has become a purely utilitarian perspective, a way of looking at things, reliant increasingly on studies of the behaviour of social insects for its scientific credentials. The dispute between Dawkins and Wilson is then reconsidered in this light, and it is argued that – regardless of which position prevails – sociobiology’s parlous state as a means of explaining action is now difficult to disguise.

“Not by bread alone: Lev Vygotsky’s Jewish writings,” by Ekaterina Zavershneva, René van der Veer. Abstract:

On the basis of both published and unpublished manuscripts written from 1914 to 1917, this article gives an overview of Lev Vygotsky’s early ideas. It turns out that Vygotsky was very much involved in issues of Jewish culture and politics. Rather surprisingly, the young Vygotsky rejected all contemporary ideas to save the Jewish people from discrimination and persecution by creating an autonomous state in Palestine or elsewhere. Instead, until well into 1917, Vygotsky proposed the rather traditional option of strengthening the spiritual roots of the Jews by returning to the religious writings. Socialism was rejected, because it merely envisioned the compulsory redistribution of material goods and ‘man lives not by bread alone’. It was only after the October Revolution that Vygotsky switched from arguments in favour of the religious faith in the Kingship of God to the communist belief in a Radiant Future.

“Symptoms, signs, and risk factors: Epidemiological reasoning in coronary heart disease and depression management,” by Mikko Jauho, Ilpo Helén. Abstract:

In current mental health care psychiatric conditions are defined as compilations of symptoms. These symptom-based disease categories have been severely criticised as contingent and boundless, facilitating the rise to epidemic proportions of such conditions as depression. In this article we look beyond symptoms and stress the role of epidemiology in explaining the current situation. By analysing the parallel development of cardiovascular disease and depression management in Finland, we argue, firstly, that current mental health care shares with the medicine of chronic somatic conditions an attachment to risk factor epidemiology, which accentuates risk and prevention in disease management. However, secondly, due to the symptom-based definitions of psychiatric conditions, depression management cannot differentiate properly between symptoms, signs and risk factors such as, for example, cardiovascular medicine, but treats symptoms as signs or risk factors in contexts of treatment and prevention. Consequently, minor at-risk conditions have become difficult to separate from proper cases of depression.

“Society, like the market, needs to be constructed: Foucault’s critical project at the dawn of neoliberalism,” by Carlos Palacios. Abstract:

It has been commonplace to equate Foucault’s 1979 series of lectures at the Collège de France with the claim that for neoliberalism, unlike for classical liberalism, the market needs to be artificially constructed. The article expands this claim to its full expression, taking it beyond what otherwise would be a simple divulgation of a basic neoliberal tenet. It zeroes in on Foucault’s own insight: that neoliberal constructivism is not directed at the market as such, but, in principle, at society, arguing that the value of this insight goes beyond the critique of a neoliberal present. The neoliberal rationale rather helps him to reveal a unique historical architecture, a latent approach to the social dissimilar to the one that has long predominated in the human sciences. The inversion of homo œconomicus in neoliberal theory amounted to the unearthing of a ‘social subject of interest’ within civil society. Such a subject, barely recognized by neoliberals who simply instrumentalize it for the sake of the market, demonstrates that the social is not necessarily the natural product of ethical subjects; that society may also need to be constructed.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.