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Signs of life – Life, Living and Death in Modern and Contemporary Continental Philosophy

Thursday 28 April 2022 - Friday 29 April 2022
KOG A051 and Vrieshof 4 008a


Conference organised by Leiden Centre for Continental Philosophy (LCCP)

Leiden 28-29 April 2022

Continental philosophy has a peculiar relation to life: life animates it and plagues it, one could almost say that life irritates philosophy. Why is it so difficult to philosophize (about) life?

Today, life does not denote anything like a vital principle, that was presumably defended by 19th century vitalists, but the living reality, the concrete life that animates philosophy because it is eminently what gives itself to thought. The original impulse of continental philosophy was the demand to go back to real, ordinary human life and to make sense of it. Today this demand has grown into the need to make sense also of the living body and brain, as well as of the domestic and savage nature in which human lifeworld is embedded. But though life thus kindles philosophy, it also plagues it because the very thing that philosophy wants to think gives itself as an elusive and even inaccessible domain that philosophy cannot grasp, hold and fix. This is why philosophy finds life indispensable and inaccessible at the same time. Life resists defining and modeling: as soon as it is defined, it is transfixed, stupefied and all but killed, and this is why it demands specific diverted ways of approach.

As result, the concept of life evades all essentialisms and gives itself truly sui generis. Beyond rigid distictions between thought and reality, activity and passivity, biography and work, nature and God, and many others, life gives itself as supple transgression, plasticity, change and transformation. Life is bare, naked and vulnerable only when political reason arrests it in a state of exception; but for sciences of life it appears as a writing that constantly rewrites, overwrites, obliterates, translates, and modifies itself. Each time, the philosophical concept is pushed to its extreme in order to capture not only an evasive object, but also its very evasiveness.

Finally, life is also something that philosophy ambitions to become. Contemporary philosophy of life does not imitate life. It aims at becoming a living philosophy capable of integrating the complexity of its object, animated by what plagues it and inspired by what irritates it. This is why philosophy tends to think life through what it is not: through death, through technology, through science, through writing or through signification.

Today, in an epoch where natural life appears increasingly vulnerable and artificial life increasingly pervasive, how to philosophize to the height of life? These questions motivate the conference organised by the Leiden Centre for Continental Philosophy (LCCP).

The conference is free and open to all, but we ask you ro register by sending a mail to the conference secretary Donovan Stewart d.a.stewart@phil.leidenuniv.nl

Sponsored by the Leiden University Fund / LUF, Van Haersolte Fund, and by the Institute for Philosophy of Leiden University.

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