Biology and philosophy. 50 years of Jacques Monod's "Chance and Necessity".

Jacques Monod (1910-1976) was a researcher at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and in 1965 he shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine with two colleagues from the same institute, François Jacob and André Lwoff, for the discovery of mechanisms that control the functioning of genes. Monod had philosophical concerns throughout his life and was a friend of Albert Camus and other existentialist thinkers.  In the book "Chance and Necessity", published in 1970, Monod examines the philosophical implications of modern biology. The title alludes to Democritus and summarizes the main thesis of the book: that a combination of determinism and chance suffices to explain the universe, the biosphere and our own existence without the need to invoke supernatural explanations. The materialism of "Chance and Necessity" was the object of numerous criticisms and polemics, which Monod had already foreseen in the book's foreword: "It is nowadays imprudent for a man of science to use the word philosophy, even if he immediately qualifies it as natural, in the title or subtitle of a book. For this condemns the book to a distrustful reception by scientists and, at best, a condescending one by philosophers." Fifty years later, Monod's materialism has been superseded by even more radical authors such as Richard Dawkins. However, the clarity of "Chance and Necessity" when it comes to philosophizing using scientific arguments is still admirable. In addition, the book contains a (very French) dose of literary flourishes that make for entertaining reading.
27/05/2021 - 19:00
Josep Casadesús
Universidad de Sevilla