I’ve always been interested in what biology has to say about life on this planet. Recently, however, when biologists have shared their thoughts, they have often sounded pretty oppressive: any freedom in action, thinking? Sorry, living machine, you’re predetermined to a 100%. Rape? An evolutionary asset. Women’s emancipation? A danger to the evolutionary success of the entire species homo sapiens!
The fault, however, may not be with biology’s findings – these do leave space for much more liberating readings. One of the voices taking a stand for freedom in the organic is that of Hans Jonas. His Das Prinzip Leben was first published in German in 1973 as Organismus und Freiheit – which was by far the more adequate title for this book. Jonas sets out to prove that no organic being can be satisfactorily explained in terms of res extensa, that the laws of physics applying to matter cannot be stretched so far as to account for the development and behaviour of living bodies. He explains why the living being can not be seen as a machine (at least not if you’re trying to make some sense). And Hans Jonas shows how the evolution of a thinking and feeling mind starts with and in the very emergence of organic life, no matter how basic its form may be – and describes the ways in which the psychophysical integrity of the living, thinking body opens a space in which freedom of thinking and action is not only somehow possible, but a dimension of the human/organic condition we have to cope with.
(Yes, the book was written before 1973. No, I don’t think it is obsolete, I think it’s stunningly relevant today. And, no, as far as I can see it has not been proved wrong by new findings in biology, quite to the contrary.)