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Chapter 7

RHETOR 109 Chapter Notes - Chapter 7: Georges Canguilhem, Ethology, Vitalism

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Rebecca Gaydos

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Rhetoric 109 Reading
The Living and the Milieu, Georges Canguilhem
Notion of the milieu is becoming a universal and obligatory mode of apprehending
the experience and existence of living beings, constituted as a category of
contemporary thought
- Philosophy must take the initiative in investigating the meaning and value of
this concept through a critical comparison of several approaches
- Examine (1) simultaneous and successive components of the notion of milieu
(2) varieties of its use from 1800 to out time, (3) reversals of the relationship
between organism and milieu (4) general philosophical impact of these
- Notion imported from mechanics into biology during the second half of the
18th century
- Mechanical notion appeared with Newton
o Fluid, type/ sole archetype of fluid is ether
o Problem mechanics had to solve was that of the action of distinct
physical bodies at a distance
o (For Descartes, only one mode of physical action, collision, in one
possibly physical situation, contact)
o Pose problem of medium of action
o Fluid is intermediary between two bodies, situated in the middle of it
o Notion of milieu is relative
o Newton perhaps responsible for importing term from physics into
- Lamarck introduced into biology, only in the plural
o Milieu: fluis like water, art and light
o Never said milieu, always influencing circumstances
- Buffon Lamarck’s teacher, son tutored by Lamarck combines  influences in
his conception of the relationship between O and M  Newton’s cosmology
/ mechanic (2) tradition of anthropo-geographers principles of animal
- Saint-Hilaire and Comte used term in the singular as an abstract term
o Comte’s milieu: the total ensemble of exterior circumstances
necessary for the existence of each organism; holds O’s action on the
M to be negligible, poses the biological problem of relations between
O and M in the form of a mathematical problem
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