He took up a post at the Clermont-Ferrand based University of Strasbourg in , and received his medical doctorate in , in the middle of World War II. Using the pseudonym "Lafont" Canguilhem became active in the French Resistance , serving as a doctor in Auvergne. By he was the French equivalent of department chair in philosophy at Strasbourg as well. Le Normal et la pathologique is an extended exploration into the nature and meaning of normality in medicine and biology, the production and institutionalization of medical knowledge.

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History and Philosophy of Science Canguilhem is clear and adamant that even though philosophy had lost its sovereignty and its autonomy, it still had important work to do. Epistemology is a rigorous description of the process by which truth is elaborated, not a list of final results and this assumption is the cornerstone of the house of reason inhabited by Canguilhem. For him, science is "a discourse verified in a delimited sector of experience. Just as firm as the belief in science is the belief in its historicity and its plurality.

There are only diverse sciences at work at particular historical moments; "physics is not biology; eighteenth century natural history is not twentieth century genetics. Hence for Canguilhem, "the history of science is the history of an object These objects are secondary, in a sense, but not derivative; one could say that they are both constructed and discovered. Canguilhem is concerned about the distinction between the normal and the normative, and their relation to the definition of health and disease; and in so doing he asserts the biological primacy of the normative over the normal.

Man does not feel in good health The ill person is ill by incapacity to tolerate more than a single norm It is like life itself, and not medical judgement, which makes the biological normal a concept of value and not a concept of statistical reality. Previously, medical training in France had privileged the normal; disease or malfunction was understood as a deviation from a fixed norm, which was taken to be a constant.

Medical practice was directed towards establishing scientifically these norms, practice following theory, towards returning the patient to health, re-establishing the norm from which the patient had strayed.

He reposed the question of the organism as a living being that is in no pre-established harmony with its environment. Suffering, not normative measurements and standard deviations, establishes the state of disease. Normativity begins with the living being, and with that being comes diversity.

Each patient whom a doctor treats presents a different case: each displays its own peculiarity Diversity does not signify sickness. Normality means the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, to variable and varying environments. Illness is a reduction to constants, the very norms by which we measure ourselves as normal. Life is not stasis, a fixed set of natural laws, set in advance and the same for all, to which one must adhere in order to survive.

Rather, life is action, mobility and pathos, the constant but only partially successful effort to resist death There is no simple, unidirectional, causal relation between genetic information and its effects. The new understanding of life marks a shift from mechanics to information and communication theory; it lies not in the structuring of matter but in a shift of scale.

The Code has become the central dogma. Canguilhem reject this. Genetic errors are information errors. Most arise from a mal-adaptation to the milieu. Mankind makes mistakes when it places itself in the wrong place, in the wrong relationship with the environment, in the wrong place to receive the information needed o survive, to act, to flourish. We must move, err, adapt to survive


The Normal and the Pathological





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