I've been teaching philosophy for many years, from secondary school students to postgraduates, to philosophy students as well as medical and economics students who have chosen philosophy as an option. You will find below a list of the courses I have given, as well as a description of a few selected lessons.
Classes I taught
Visiting Associate Professor, University of Lille. 192 hours/year teaching.
Undergraduate classes: philosophy of biology; general philosophy; animal philosophy; history of philosophy; epistemology; methodology of academic work.
Audience: philosophy students; sociology students; medical students.
Invited Professor, University Sorbonne Paris-Nord. 12 hours teaching.
Graduate classes to prepare the university diploma of canine mediator in social intervention: animal philosophy.
Assistant teacher, University of Rouen. 36 hours teaching.
Undergraduate classes: history of modern philosophy; Kantian philosophy.
Audience: philosophy students, economics students, history students, language science students.
Doctoral student and teacher. University of Toulouse 2. 64 hours/year teaching.
Graduate classes: philosophy of biology; philosophy of time for students preparing for the agrégation de philosophie.
Undergraduate classes: philosophy of moral and politics; methodology of academic work; philosophy of sciences.
Audience: philosophy students.
Invited teacher (Colleuse) in philosophy. Lycée Henri IV, Paris.
Being a colleuse consists of preparing students for the oral exam of the Ecole Normale Supérieure competition.
Audience: literature students, with a major in philosophy.
Philosophy teacher. Lycée Racine, Paris. 360 hours/year teaching.
Philosophy classes for students preparing the “Baccalauréat”.
Audience: high school students.
Invited teacher in philosophy. Lycée Victor Duruy, Paris.
Occasional classes on Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and on Bergson's philosophy of time.
Description of selected courses
The laws of nature
The aim of science seems to be to discover the laws of nature, with the intention of liberating us from beliefs and superstitions and identifying the causal relationships that govern the natural world. In doing so, science is believed to unveil the mysteries of nature, providing us with the ability to manipulate natural phenomena and acquire profound understanding of the world. These hidden truths manifest as fundamental laws, where a consistent cause invariably leads to the same effect. would take the form of necessary laws, the same cause always necessarily bringing about the same effect.
This conception of science is based on two mutually complementary presuppositions that we need to examine:
Nature follows the same logic as our intelligence: scientific laws are therefore the exact translation of natural laws.
Science would not be a human construct but would reveal the Truth of the world itself.
The aim of this class is to evaluate the claims made by contemporary science, as well as our overall knowledge, with the purpose of establishing the underlying principles that govern the patterns and consistencies in our surrounding world, commonly referred to as the “laws of nature”.
Here are some of the questions addressed during this class: Does nature follow our logic? If there is a gap between our logic and that of nature, how can we assess the scientificity of a theory? Its truth? Since the expression "laws of nature" seems to cover physical laws as well as natural selection, and even certain human inclinations, we shall also consider the causality at work in nature. Does "nature" form a homogeneous whole?
These questions have contemporary implications. Today, any criticism levelled at scientific theories runs the risk of being accused of obscurantism, while a new form of obscurantism (fake news, conspiracy theories) threatens to lead us into a relativism of knowledge, calling into question not only science but our objective relationship with the world. These inquiries also have a historical background as they were already posed by philosophers in Antiquity, albeit in a different manner than how they are articulated today. Thus, it is crucial to examine how philosophical inquiries have undergone transformations due to various scientific revolutions, fundamentally altering our perception of nature and our interconnectedness with the world.
In our pursuit to clarify the meaning of the term “laws of nature” and comprehend the correlation between scientific laws and the regularities observed in the so-called “natural” world, we will delve into the significant issues within the realm of epistemology and the philosophy of science. Furthermore, we will explore the evolution of these issues throughout history. The course will also address contemporary debates surrounding science and explore the potential ramifications that different philosophical frameworks of science may have, not only in theory but also in practical applications.
Concept and life
This course centers around the examination of the relationship between intelligence and life, drawing inspiration from Georges Canguilhem's article title. It poses fundamental questions regarding the capacity of human intelligence, as a form of knowledge specific to certain living beings, to comprehend and grasp the essence of life. Does our intelligence truly enable us to attain knowledge of life? Alternatively, do we progress from life towards intelligence, towards the concept itself? In this context, particular attention will be paid to the inherent ambiguity of the term "life", which can encompass both biological life and personal experience.
The primary framework for our exploration will be Henri Bergson's work, particularly his book Creative Evolution with a specific focus on the initial three chapters. These chapters delve into the notion of how our intelligence, which has been shaped and adapted through the course of evolutionary processes, possesses the capability to comprehend the phenomenon of life, despite being ultimately a product thereof. Our inquiry will be further enriched through examination of Canguilhem's La connaissance de la vie, offering additional perspectives on the subject matter.
Being animal, being human
Humans are classified as animals, specifically as placental mammals belonging to the primate order. However, humans possess distinct characteristics that differentiate them from other species, leading to their traditional classification within a separate kingdom known as the human kingdom. But, while the plant and animal kingdoms can be differentiated based on morphological criteria, distinguishing between animals and humans solely through physical analysis is challenging. Various criteria have been proposed over time, such as the presence of reason, language, and tool-making abilities unique to human beings. Humans occupy a unique position between animals and deities, possessing consciousness, morality, and freedom. This distinction often appears more metaphysical or axiological rather than purely scientific. While it is evident that humans differ from jellyfish, establishing a fundamental difference in nature between humans and great apes becomes less straightforward, as the latter exhibit tool usage, social living, and cultural transmission to other members of the group and their descendants. So what criteria should be used to distinguish human beings? Are we simply apes like others? In this course, we will explore the historical evolution of this question.
For a long time, the distinction between plants, animals and humans was considered in terms of hierarchy, with the human being regarded as the pinnacle of creation, different in kind from the rest of living beings. Numerous criteria were proposed to establish this differentiation: the essence of the animal soul versus the human soul; animals being mere machines while humans possessed minds; animals being driven by instinct while humans exhibited rationality, and so forth. However, the advent of Darwinian evolutionary theory has significantly challenged this hierarchical view, raising a fresh concern: if humans have evolved from apes, then the distinction is merely a matter of degree. Consequently, new criteria were introduced to delineate humans from animals: humans were believed to possess an infinite capacity for meaning, while animals were constrained by their instincts; humans were considered free and moral, whereas animals were considered nothing but cruel and selfish.
The primary objective of this course is to explore the evolution of our understanding of animals and the complex interplay between animality and humanity. Our investigation will involve a comprehensive analysis of classical philosophical texts that have formed the foundation of our perception of animality. However, we will also delve into contemporary approaches found in the philosophy of mind and the sciences of animal behaviour. These contemporary perspectives will offer nuanced insights and intricate perspectives on the challenges posed by distinguishing between animals and humans. Additionally, we will examine how this evolving conception of animality has influenced and transformed our relationships with other animals. We will also critically examine the ethical implications arising from these diverse conceptions. Specifically, we will explore how our perceived differences impact our interactions with other species. By engaging with these ethical considerations, we aim to deepen our understanding of the broader implications associated with our changing conceptions of animality.
There have been multiple characterisations of time over the centuries. This plurality leads to mistrust. Is time merely a nominal concept? If time refers to something real, is that something only subjective? Or might time have an objective reality, a real ontological depth, or even be the ontological depth of all reality?
To begin with, we will start from the generous premise that the notion of time certainly seems to refer to something external to us, since if ever there was something par excellence that we do not seem to master, it is time. As Bergson’s famous example puts it, “no matter what I do, I still must wait for the sugar to dissolve” (Creative Evolution). Even if we assume that time is merely a delay in the fulfilment of a programme drawn up from all eternity, from our point of view it seems that we have no choice but to wait or not to wait. Even if we assume that time is merely a delay in the fulfilment of a programme drawn up from all eternity, from our point of view it seems that we have no choice but to wait or not to wait. Time therefore seems to have an objective and independent reality, because it seems to pass in spite of us. From this, we often infer that we are in time, but as soon as we question our lived experience of time, we find that this experience immediately refers us to change. The passage of time is associated with the changes we observe. So aren't we confusing the experience of change with the experience of time? What is time independently of change? The alternative would therefore be: does time have an objective reality or is it only real for us? Moreover, is this alternative exclusive of other conceptions of time, when the unity of the notion of time seems problematic? Perhaps it would be more accurate to distinguish between objective time (the time of physicists) and subjective or lived time (the experience of duration).
That said, even within so-called objective time, it is not certain that the concept is unitary, and that the reversible time of the fundamental laws of physics can be compared with the irreversible time of thermodynamics. If we usually consider that the alternative is between objective time and subjective duration, one of the aims of this course will be to question the presupposition underlying the alternative, considering the notion of time as unitary. Not only is there nothing to guarantee that time exists, but there is nothing to tell us that it makes sense to speak of a unified time, or of time as a univocal concept. The challenge of this examination will be to conceive of an enriched notion of time that allows us to escape from an alternative that is perhaps immediately distorted by the presupposition of a problematic unity. Highlighting the plurality of the notion of time does not necessarily mean promoting one conception against another, but rather enriching an understanding in the tradition of a Bergsonian approach that takes into account the multiplicity of understandings of time.
Is there such a thing as a science of the living?
The objective of this course is to explore the formation of biology as a scientific field, analysing the diverse challenges it has encountered and striving to delineate the criteria for its scientific autonomy. The pursuit of scientific knowledge regarding living beings presents numerous complexities: biological phenomena lack repeatability (each organism is inherently unique); biological laws exhibit a historical dimension (they do not exist for all eternity); its objects (organisms) cannot be analysed on the basis of their elementary parts. Thus, the study of organisms challenges some of the fundamental principles underlying scientific inquiry as a whole, including the notions of universality, predictability, and the analytical method.
The ambition of this class is to establish the epistemological foundations underlying the key issues specific to the philosophy of biology. In pursuit of this aim, we will pose several fundamental questions. Firstly, we will investigate the extent to which biological statements can possess the status of laws, considering the existence of natural phenomena commonly referred to as "monsters," which deviate from the established norms. Additionally, we will critically examine the value of biological statements if they fail to offer predictability or deterministic outcomes. We will explore the possibilities of developing a scientific framework that adequately accommodates the study of specific cases and individual instances within the realm of biology. Furthermore, we will delve into the nature of explanation within the field of biology. Addressing these inquiries will prompt us to engage in broader reflection on the criteria of science, ultimately exploring what characterises knowledge as scientific. Through the lens of biology, we will have the opportunity to reassess the theoretical requisites of science, as well as its ethical dimensions.
Passions in Descartes
Descartes is generally presented as the dualisticist par excellence, the philosopher who posited the separation of soul and body as two distinct substances. However, the human being is in fact the union of the two, and a total one. From the standpoint of metaphysical knowledge - the standpoint of the Metaphysical Meditations - it is necessary to distinguish between substances. But in order to solve the problems posed by Princess Elisabeth, which deal directly with the conduct of life, Descartes needs to answer for the union represented by the human being. For the human being is not a spirit in a body, but a complete compound. And this union is manifested in particular by our passions, which "incite and dispose [our] soul to will the things for which they prepare [our] body" (art. 40, The Passions of the soul). Through these passions, we know that we are not only housed in our bodies like a pilot in his ship, but that we are "very closely and so mixed and mingled" with them that we compose "one whole with them" ( Metaphysical Meditations).
The aim of this class is to analyse the way in which Descartes attempts to resolve the problem of the union of soul and body through an understanding of the passions, thereby developing not only his ontology (his understanding of being), but also a genuine morality capable of enlightening us about the conduct of our lives.
What is a people?
When we speak of a people, we refer to a multitude of individuals collectively referred to as the "people" because they share something in common. It is worth noting from the outset that these individuals are human beings: we do not use the term "people" to designate a group of animals. We may potentially refer to them as a population. Therefore, the people is not synonymous with the population. What individuals have in common, which leads to their classification as a "people", is not solely based on territorial occupation (for instance, the Jewish people did not have a territory for a long time). Their unity is not a natural unity or a unity based on species. We do not speak of the "people of fish" any more than we speak of the "human people". A people is a unity composed of several individuals bound together not by natural characteristics, but rather by cultural ones.
In addition, there is a socio-political dimension to consider. Whether referring to the French people or the Jewish people, in both cases, we are discussing a group of individuals forming a certain community, which may play a political role. Hence, the ambiguity of the reality designated by the term "people": it brings together a multiplicity of individuals considered to form a cultural and political unity, specifically a collective subject. Paul Valéry highlights this contradiction in Regards sur le monde actuel: “The word ‘people’ sometimes refers to an indistinct reality that is present nowhere, and sometimes to the majority opposed to the limited number of more fortunate or more educated individuals”. On one hand, there is a singular people, but the source of its unity is elusive; on the other hand, there is a multiplicity of individuals whose unity appears fictional and even contradicts this unity.
The objective of this course will be to address this contradiction and understand what grounds the unity of a people beyond mere designation, examining the characteristics that distinguish a human gathering as a people.