Tuesday, 17 April 2007
Bios, Praxis and the Unity of Life
James G. Lennox, Departtment of HPS, University of Pittsburgh
12:05 pm, 817R Cathedral of Learning
Abstract: In Aristotle's scientific investigation of animals, the concepts of bios (way of life) and praxis (activity) each play two central, yet quite different, roles. On the one hand, they are two of the four most general differentiae used by Aristotle in his History of Animals to organize information about animals in a systematic fashion (the other two are 'parts' and 'traits of character'). On the other hand, they also play a central role in the causal explanations of other features of animals in the Parts of Animals and Generation of Animals. In this paper I am primarily interested in understanding the contribution of the concept of bios in each of these roles, and in particular in understanding what it contributes in each context that distinguishes it from the concept of praxis. I shall argue that one of its primary contributions is to account for the complex structural and functional unity that is so characteristic of living things. Thus, though his concepts of bios and praxis are intimately related, it is important not to conflate them if we want to understand Aristotle's biology. I will close by raising some questions about whether there is a role for a modern analogue of Aristotle's bios in contemporary biology, and if so, what (and where) that role might be.