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From historical epistemology to the philosophy of biology: A look at jean gayon’s intellectual journey


The academic path of Jean Gayon (1949–2018) follows in the wake of the “French style” in epistemology, but he is also one of the first representatives of philosophy of biology in France. In the light of this double philosophical heritage, this chapter re-examines the relations between the works of Gayon, the tradition in which he first studied, and the one he later adopted, but not without reservations. Tracing his intellectual journey, this article explores why he naturally appears as a Canguilhemian, a view against which he defends himself. Attending to the connexions that he established with the philosophers of biology will bring to light the growing tension that inhabits him, from the middle of the 1980s onwards, and which led him to identify some of the limits inherent to the matrix of historical epistemology, without disowning his first philosophical tradition. Finally, in an attempt to reconcile two approaches, I will underline the emergence in the thought of Jean Gayon of a third way seeking to overcome the opposition between a “unitarian” style that seeks to make a clear break with the history of science and its philosophical past, and the “dualist” style which tends to stay above scientific debates, and which accepts a clear distinction between the work of science and the work of philosophy. Reuniting the history and the philosophy of the sciences, privileging the long durée and depths of history, where the problems of biology unfold, while also recognizing the value of analysing the conceptual puzzles which structure the contemporary life sciences, the oeuvre of Jean Gayon illustrates the complementary character of these disciplines.


Méthot, P.-O. (2023). From historical epistemology to the philosophy of biology: A look at jean gayon’s intellectual journey. Dans P.-O. Méthot (dir.), Philosophy, history and biology: Essays in honour of Jean Gayon (vol. 30, p. 13-37). Springer : Springer International Publishing.

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