The Dynamic Polarity of Life and the Concept of Normativity in Georges Canguilhem’s Philosophy

Anton Vydra


This paper concerns the notion of the dynamic polarity of life and how it was rethought by the French philosopher of science, Georges Canguilhem. This notion is connected with problem of norms and normativity as well as values and valorization. The author of the paper refers to certain roots of the concept of the dynamic polarity of life, especially in Gaston Bachelard’s philosophy. The polarity of values is evident in the case of some biological antagonisms: life and death, health and disease, or the normal and the pathological. These antagonisms lead to description of the precarious nature of values and of life. Norms are not conceived as relative, but as unsecured (similarly as health and life). Healing is a battle for valorized norms. Canguilhem believes that disease must be understood as something which bears a negative value, even if it leads to crises (or crossroads) from which one is able to move to new normal situations. Also death bears commonly a negative value, even if death may also be a rescue for the living being. Diseases as well as healing tend to a new normality of the living being and thus change biological individuality, e.g. a relation between an organism and its environment, this opens to Canguilhem possibilities of specific axiological studies concerning the living beings. Even if axiology is in a certain sense a central for Canguilhem’s thinking on biological relations, he is careful to not extend it blithely to the social or moral sphere. This peculiar axiology grasps more the vital than the social organization of life. Nevertheless, human life has according to the French philosopher not only a biological, but also a social and existential sense. And philosophy should be sensible to all of these senses.


Dynamic Polarity of Life; Normativity; Normality; Georges Canguilhem

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