“Life” is the site of a formidable lacuna. There is no firmly established scientific account of its constitutive properties or the process of its genesis. There is no broad philosophical consensus concerning the determination or extension of its concept. At once the soul of self-evidence and the default of reason, the apparently immeasurable disjunction between the life we live and the life we do not know continues to pose intractable problems for experiment and reflection alike.
While one result of these difficulties has been a number of recent efforts to locate and delineate their scientific and theoretical consequences, another has been a tendency to take the conceptual underdetermination of “life” as an opportunity for its conceptual overextension. Varieties of “vital materialism” prone to describing physical forces in terms of an inherent “life of things” have done little to clarify the problematic nature of the concept, and insofar as “life” functions as an empty signifier concealing an absence of theoretical coherence we might be better to have done with it.
The effort of this three-day symposium will be to think through the problem of “life” and the engagement with relations between science and philosophy such thinking demands. What resources, if any, does the tradition of philosophical vitalism still have to offer in addressing this problem? If “life” is in fact a non-concept, what theoretical determinations might displace it? What are the stakes of the role this signifier has played within the critique of political economy, and how can its conceptual determination within the latter be sharpened? In what sense is “life” an aesthetic problem, and how might art or literature condition our understanding of its parameters?
Between science, philosophy, art, and politics, what remains of the life we do not know what it means to live?
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