Bacteria and Natural Agency

The latest issue of the Journal of the American Philosophical Association has an article about agency and cognition in bacteria, “Natural Agency: The Case of Bacterial Cognition,” by Fermín C. Fulda. It’s part of a steady stream of research across the humanities and sciences indicating that nonhuman life forms are smarter than most modern philosophers had thought. It’s often billed as a surprise. Even bacteria have cognition! HERE is another piece with an overview of some bacterial cognition research. Fulda’s article is very critical of the looseness with which words like cognition, intelligence, and agency get lumped together, so he adds some philosophical clarity and distinction to those terms, specifically as they apply to research regarding the patterned behavior of bacteria.

Proposing an “ecological conception of agency,” Fulda argues for a move from a Cartesian to neo-Aristotelian perspective. Focusing on different kinds of agency (Aristotle) and not primarily on cognition (Descartes) allows for a broad, fluid boundary between human and nonhuman life instead of the rigid binary of Cartesian mind and matter. Of course, many philosophers make similar arguments for a spectrum of agency. Hans Jonas, Alfred North Whitehead, and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin are good twentieth-century examples, but those aren’t exactly the thinkers who dominate discussions in the American Philosophical Association. It’s significant that Fulda is making this argument in an APA context. Is mainstream philosophy becoming less anthropocentric? Maybe. Continue reading


Making Love with Lingis

When we, in our so pregnant expression, make love with someone of our own species, we also make love with the horse and the dolphin, the kitten and the macaw, the powdery moths and the lustful crickets.

A thinker who comprehends with the hands, hands made for blessing, sees swallows and owls, wetlands and tundra pullulate with grace.  Blessing is the beginning and the end of all ecological awareness.  […] Laughter and tears, blessing and cursing break through the packaging and labeling of things that make our environment something only scanned and skimmed over.  They are forces with which we impact on nature, which we had perused only as the text of the world.  They are forces that seek out and engage reality.

Lust in not content with respectful and considerate caresses and release of tension; it wants another, wilder orgasm, it wants orgasms on jet airplanes and in tropical swamps, it wants bondage and whips.

Alphonso Lingis, Dangerous Emotions (University of California Press, 2000), pp. 37, 71, 78, 79.

…and more to come…