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Life Sci Soc Policy. 2017 Dec;13(1):4. doi: 10.1186/s40504-017-0047-9. Epub 2017 Mar 4.

The oblique perspective: philosophical diagnostics of contemporary life sciences research.

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Department of Philosophy and Science Studies (Chair), Faculty of Science, Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (ISIS), Radboud University Nijmegen, P.O. Box 9010, Nijmegen, GL, 6500, The Netherlands.


This paper indicates how continental philosophy may contribute to a diagnostics of contemporary life sciences research, as part of a "diagnostics of the present" (envisioned by continental thinkers, from Hegel up to Foucault). First, I describe (as a "practicing" philosopher) various options for an oblique (or symptomatic) reading of emerging scientific discourse, bent on uncovering the basic "philosophemes" of science (i.e. the guiding ideas, the basic conceptions of nature, life and technology at work in contemporary life sciences research practices). Subsequently, I outline a number of radical transformations occurring both at the object-pole and at the subject-pole of the current knowledge relationship, namely the technification of the object and the anonymisation or collectivisation of the subject, under the sway of automation, ICT and big machines. Finally, I further elaborate the specificity of the oblique perspective with the help of Lacan's theorem of the four discourses. Philosophical reflections on contemporary life sciences concur neither with a Master's discourse (which aims to strengthen the legitimacy and credibility of canonical sources), nor with university discourse (which aims to establish professional expertise), nor with what Lacan refers to as hysterical discourse (which aims to challenge representatives of the power establishment), but rather with the discourse of the analyst, listening with evenly-poised attention to the scientific files in order to bring to the fore the cupido sciendi (i.e. the will to know, but also to optimise and to control) which both inspires and disrupts contemporary life sciences discourse.

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