"The Sexes of Evolution: Continental Philosophy, Feminist Philosophy, and Evolutionary Theory"


The topic of the 2009 Spindel Conference joins three broad streams of contemporary thought: Continental Philosophy, Feminist Philosophy and Evolutionary Theory. It is not uncommon for two of these research streams to meet; more rare is the confluence of all three. The chief aim of the 2009 Spindel Conference is to showcase the contributions of philosophers working at the important and timely junction of all of these philosophical traditions. This work addresses the central question animating the conference: What can Continental Philosophy contribute to our understanding of the feminist issues raised by evolutionary theory, broadly understood?

Continental Philosophy and Evolutionary Theory

Nineteenth-century European thought was captivated by the possibilities of evolutionary theory for human self understanding. In the aftermath of twentieth century political programs of genocide, eugenics, and Social Darwinism, contemporary European philosophy traces the genealogies of these catastrophes, exposing the scientifically cloaked social warfare and biased accounts of the social and organismic world found in the relevant versions of evolutionary theory. Genealogy/archaeology, philosophies of difference, ethical philosophy, new Marxianisms, phenomenology and post-colonial philosophy all address evolutionary theory anew and in suggestive ways. But they have generally not taken sexual difference or any of its neighboring notions to be matters central to these discussions, leaving them to psychoanalysis, anthropology, sociology and literature, all of which have their own evolutionary moments. Potential resources include: Schelling, Hegel, Marx, Husserl, Heidegger, Bergson, Canguilhem, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, Foucault, Habermas, Ricoeur, Simondon and Deleuze. More recently, relevant work has been done by: Michel Serres, Henri Atlan, Peter Sloterdijk, Bruno Latour, Pierre Sonigo, Isabelle Stengers, François Dagognet, and Giorgio Agamben.

Feminist Philosophy and Evolutionary Theory

Surprisingly, mainstream analytical philosophical work on contemporary evolutionary theory devotes little thought to one of its central concepts, that of sex. Standard works in analytical philosophy of evolutionary biology abound in mention of the term, with little discussion either of the technical complexities in its definition or of its purported meaning for human beings. Evolutionary biologists themselves study it more closely than do philosophers of evolutionary biology. Of course, feminist philosophical engagement with evolutionary theory makes categories of sex and gender central to its analyses. Although it often has roots in the dialectical and materialist philosophies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, most contemporary feminist philosophy of evolutionary thought is chiefly in the idiom of analytical philosophy. This is a rich body of work that has raised questions whose importance continues to grow. But it has not explored the full range of the deep conceptual resources found in European philosophy for reflection on these questions.

Continental Philosophy and Feminist Philosophy

Intersections of contemporary Continental philosophy and feminist philosophy have tended not to engage the tradition of evolutionary thought. This is unfortunate, for many of its insights would interestingly be brought to bear upon evolutionary theory. Moreover, in its psychoanalytic variants, Continental feminist thought has roots that touch upon the questions of evolution through Freud's appropriation of certain nineteenth century versions of evolutionary thinking. The time has come for an update.

Spindel 2009: Continental Philosophy, Feminist Philosophy and Evolutionary Theory

In addition to the theoretical configurations sketched above, each of which joins two of the three fields that comprise our conference title, a group of philosophers working at the intersection of all three fields has recently emerged. The 28th Spindel Conference presents their freshest thought and takes stock of these new directions in feminist philosophy of evolutionary theory that stem from the tradition of European Philosophy. In this sesquicentennial year of the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, the Spindel Conference gathers both top established researchers and younger scholars to present their work on the significance to each other of evolutionary theory, feminist philosophy and Continental philosophy.

Essential information

Conference Program