Workshop on Philosophical Anthropology and Contemporary Continental Philosophy

For a recording of the event, please visit: 

Date: Friday 15th September 2017, 9:30am–5:45pm

Location: Keeton-Lomas Lecture Theatre, Ground Floor, Armstrong Building, University of Newcastle, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE1 7RU & Armstrong Reception Rooms

Refreshments and lunch (and some breakfast) will be provided to all participants free of charge. There will be a wine reception after the event.


9:00­–9:30am Registration, Tea, Coffee, Breakfast (Location: Armstrong Reception Rooms, Armstrong Building)

9:30am Elizabeth Cykowski (University of Oxford), ‘Heidegger and the Idea of Philosophical Anthropology’ (Keeton-Lomas Lecture Theatre, Armstrong Building)

10:15am Michael Lewis (University of Newcastle), ‘The Ends and the Beginning of Man’

11:30–12:00pm Tea and Coffee Break

12:00pm Anne Alombert (University of Paris – Nanterre), ‘Derrida and Simondon: Thinking the “Human” “Outside” the Language of Metaphysics’

1:00–2:00pm Lunch (Provided for all). Book Sale and Book Signings, organised by Blackwell’s

2:00pm Gerald Moore (University of Durham), ‘Philosophy, Anthropology, and the Milieus of Addiction’

3:00pm Nina Power (University of Roehampton), ‘The Politics of Philosophical Anthropology: Who is the Collective Subject?’

4:00 – 4:30pm Tea and Coffee Break

4:30pm Lorenzo Chiesa (Genoa School of Humanities/European University at St. Petersburg), ‘Insomnia@work: Between Post-workerism and Psychoanalysis’

5:45 Wine Reception

7:00pm Dinner (Provided for speakers, get in touch with the organisers if you’d like to come)

With Heidegger, if not before, the strict distinction separating the transcendental from the natural is put almost irrevocably in question. In the wake of this, most prominently perhaps in the work of deconstruction, the question of the genesis of structure has once again forced itself upon philosophy’s attention. One form which this question may assume is that of the entry of the human animal into the symbolic and cultural structures which pre-exist it, and which render it fully human: this is to say, the question of anthropogenesis at the level of both ontogeny and phylogeny.

Thus, once again, after a half-century of abeyance, it was left to Jacques Derrida to insist firmly upon the ambiguity of the ‘end of man’ as cessation and sublation. Today, particularly in light of the renewed ability of contemporary continental philosophy to engage in a philosophically significant manner with the natural sciences, the question of ‘man’ and of ‘human nature’ has once again become a respectable — and indeed pressing — topic of discussion.

Recent and not so recent attention has been devoted to the crucial philosophical anthropologies of both Kant and Hegel, and a prominent theme of contemporary European thought has been a return to questions of (human) biology, anatomy, and psychology, along with their connection to the (perhaps) unique symbolic cultures that man produces (with Catherine Malabou, Bernard Stiegler, the Slovenian School of Lacanian psycho-analysis and those inspired by it, while departing from the reading of Lacan inspired by Jacques-Alain Miller and to some extent Alain Badiou, in his wake, towards a confrontation between Lacan and the natural sciences).

In a more explicitly political thought, quite frequently issuing from Italy, the political implications of human nature and the necessity of considering the anthropological question have been brought to the fore by the likes of Paolo Virno, Roberto Esposito, and Giorgio Agamben, among others.

The question of the animal, so dear to Derrida, most explicitly in his later work, is difficult to separate from the question of the nature of the human animal, the ‘autobiographical animal’ which tells itself what it is by means of the boundary it installs between itself and the non-linguistic animals.

On the question of man’s own animality, perhaps it can be said that post-Kantian philosophy has from the very beginning proved remarkably suspicious of Darwinism. From Nietzsche onwards, continental philosophy has rivalled even theology in its persistent limiting of the pertinence of an idea which threatens to reduce the qualitative difference between man and the other animals, posited by metaphysics, to a merely quantitative one. It is only quite recently, with the more shrill insistence of the question of genesis that a certain kind of biology, and a reconsideration of Darwinism (particularly in the more philosophically astute account of it given by Stephen Jay Gould, among others), has come to interest this tradition of philosophy. And even this does not rule out a certain qualitative difference between man and animal, in the form of a leap or passage to infinity, which, from a common — and natural — point of departure, transports man onto a symbolic or spiritual plane, the art, religion, and philosophy of which might still be claimed as man’s unique province.

The reduction of the human to the level of animality is a wave which proceeds with gathering force in the movements of post-humanism, trans-humanism and their ilk, for which the human being, once it has been identified as a species that is historical and therefore potentially temporary, should swiftly be surpassed. But perhaps we should hesitate before such a treacherous leap, since if we are to be sure that man is something to be overcome — or if such an event has already come to pass — we would do well to ascertain just what that human being is. We must take care that we are able accurately to discern the precise features of that face drawn in the sand before it is washed away by a certain tide, not least if we are to assess the value of that impending erasure and the extent to which we should therefore attempt to stem that tide.

What is this ‘transcendental-empirical doublet’ of Foucault’s account? What is the relation between the empirical species homo sapiens in its specific biology, anatomy, and psychology, and the ‘subject of the signifier’ (Lacan), ‘Dasein’ (Heidegger), the only animal for whom the question of what it is to be is an issue, or however we choose to describe the human being’s philosophical avatar?

What sort of natural character must the human animal possess if it is to be capable of the role that philosophy has assigned it? And what effects if any should this natural character have on this role, and in particular on the political arrangement that we advocate, the cultural, symbolic institutions and their laws, which, for the German Philosophical Anthropologists of the twentieth century (Max Scheler, Arnold Gehlen, and Helmuth Plessner), were rendered necessary by the unusually ‘unspecialised’, deficient character of man’s animal instincts, which Nietzsche drew most forcefully to philosophy’s attention, presenting a vision of the human animal as a ‘creature of lack’ which implicates the deeper pre-history of ‘philosophical anthropology’ in Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Johann Gottfried Herder, right back to the Platonic myth of Epimetheus and Prometheus.

This workshop attempts a preliminary gathering of perspectives on the question of man in contemporary continental thought with a view to clarifying the problem and identifying possible solutions.


The location is on the ground floor to ensure easy access.

Food and Drink

Refreshments and lunch (and some breakfast) will be provided to all participants free of charge. There will be a wine reception after the event. Dinner will be provided for speakers, and if you want to join them, you’re more than welcome, but please let the organisers know as early as you can.

Book Sale & Journal

Books written by and contributed to by participants at the event will be for sale at lunchtime, courtesy of Blackwell’s Bookshop, Newcastle.

We are currently issuing a call for papers for our new journal, the Journal of Italian Philosophy:


We would like to record the event. By attending, we will assume your consent to this, so please let us know if you would rather not go on record.

Organisation and Funding:

Centre for Cultural Ecologies (, School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Durham.

Philosophical Studies (, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Canguilhem and Simondon

Conjointly with the present workshop, on Thursday 14th September, there will be a conference at Durham, on Canguilhem-Simondon: Epistemology and Ontology of the Milieu, which people may be interested in attending. Further details are available here:

Philosophy at Newcastle University

Philosophy at Newcastle is enjoying a period of great expansion. For anyone interested in postgraduate study in Philosophy, particularly European Philosophy and the History of European Thought, information about our MLitt, MPhil and PhD is available here:, and a list of staff and their research interests here:

Information about the BA in Philosophy may be found here:

All are very welcome, and there is no charge for the event, which includes lunch and refreshments throughout the day, but numbers are quite strictly limited, so please do register your interest by e-mail, so as to be kept in touch with any changes, and to avoid disappointment on the day.

Please note that our aim to provide a forum as open and sympathetic as possible, and to allow speakers and those involved in the debates to try out new and perhaps speculative ideas. We thus ask for participants and auditors who will be sympathetic to all of the thinkers potentially involved in the talks.


Dr. Michael Lewis, Philosophical Studies, University of Newcastle Upon Tyne (

Dr. Gerald Moore, School of Modern Languages and Cultures, University of Durham (

Poster: please disseminate


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