Chance and Necessity: An Essay on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology [ Jacques Monod, Austryn Wainhouse] on *FREE* shipping on. Jacques Monod () was a French biologistwidely regarded as the ” father of molecular biology”who was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physiology or. Jacques Monod ( – ) was a French biologist who was awarded a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in for his discoveries in.

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Chance and Necessity (Jacques Monod) – book review

Thanks for telling us about the problem. Return to Book Page. Preview — Chance and Necessity by Jacques Monod. Chance and Necessity by Jacques Monod. This radical book by Nobel laureate Monod is an important intellectual event.

Chance and Necessity is a philosophical statement whose intention is to sweep away as both false and dangerous the animist conception of man that has dominated virtually all Western worldviews from primitive cultures to those of dialectical materialists. He bases his argument on the evidence of m This radical book by Nobel laureate Monod is an important intellectual event. He bases his argument on the evidence of modern biology, which indisputably shows, that man is the product of chance genetic mutation.

With the unrelenting logic of the scientist, he draws upon what we now know and can theorize of genetic structure to suggest an new way of looking at ourselves. He argues that objective scientific knowledge, the only reliable knowledge, denies the concepts of destiny or evolutionary purpose that underlie traditional philosophies.

He contends that the persistence of those concepts is responsible for the intensifying schizophrenia of a world that accepts, and lives by, the fruits of science while refusing to face its moral implications. Dismissing as “animist” not only Plato, Hegel, Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin but Spencer and Marx as well, he calls for a new ethic that will recognize the distinction between objective knowledge and the realm of values–an ethic of knowledge that can, perhaps, save us from our deepening spiritual malaise, from the new age of darkness he sees coming.

Preface Of strange objects Vitalisms and animisms Maxwell’s demons Microscopic cybernetics Molecular ontogenesis Invariance and perturbations Evolution The frontiers The kingdom and the darkness Appendixes Mass Market Paperbackpages.

Published September 12th by Vintage first published National Book Award for Translation To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Chance and Necessityplease sign up. I would like a copy in English. See 2 questions about Chance and Necessity…. Lists with This Book. People interested in Big Questions. As far as I can make out from a little background reading, the origin of this book came in Jacques Monod, a highly distinguished molecular biologist who would later win the Nobel Prize, was asked by his friend Albert Camus to write a critique of Lysenkoism; at the time this was officially declared by Stalin as holy writ to which all right-thinking Marxists had to subscribe on pain of excommunication.

Monod, appalled at Lysenko’s mendacious pseudo-scientific nonsense, tore it to pieces As far as I can make out from a little background reading, the origin of this book came in Monod, appalled at Lysenko’s mendacious pseudo-scientific nonsense, tore it to pieces. But I get the impression that he then thought a great deal about how things had got to this point, and discussed the ideas with Camus and other people.

Monod was evidently a very deep thinker. If you want to pin Lysenkoism on someone, the obvious culprit is Lysenko himself, and the next most obvious is his protector Stalin.

Monod wasn’t satisfied with blaming Stalin, or even Marx. He looks at the philosophical basis of Marxism, which, he persuasively argues, is really just another example of jacque he refers to as “animism”: For a Christian, ncessity purpose comes from God, and for a Marxist it comes from the dialectical interpretation of history. Monod thinks that Christianity, Marxism and all other “animist” philosophies are equally off-target.

In the main body of the text, he presents a brilliantly condensed account of how his work in molecular biology led him to this position; although the book was written in the late 60s, his line of reasoning still comes across as chsnce convincing.


Monod starts by considering the similarities and differences between three general kinds of things: He shows how difficult it is to frame clear rules to distinguish them, and concludes that there is in fact no hard-and-fast difference encessity a living creature from a crystal. In both cases, the patterns and symmetries we see come from the mathematical nature of the underlying molecular structures; crystal lattices in one case, DNA in the other.

Jacques Monod and Chance and Necessity.

The real difference is that living creatures are vastly more complicated. Monod goes on to elaborate this correspondance, and shows how the processes by which living creatures reproduce are fundamentally similar, at a molecular level, to those that make a crystal grow. He spends a good deal of time explaining the fascinating details of how enzymes, the complex proteins involved in the process of DNA replication, are both created by the DNA and also used by it to perform this task.

He shows how these enzymes are to all intents and purposes wonderfully ingenious machines, which give every appearance of having been designed to serve highly specific purposes; but, just when you think he’s contradicted himself, he goes on to demonstrate that their structure reveals they can only be the product of blind chance.

There is no one running the show: As Lucretius said a couple of thousand years earlier, there is just atoms and void. After the long segue into molecular biology, Monod concludes by looping back to his starting point. Nothing in the universe, he says, gives it external purpose. We are the ones who give it purpose, based on our billions of years of inherited molecular experience; we must keep our objectivity, and be careful not to confuse facts and values.

Jacques Monod

As an Existentialist sermon, I have never seen it done better. View all 34 comments. Jul 25, Adam rated it really liked it Shelves: His book Chance and Necessity is an investigation of life as a contingent process governed largely by chance, at all levels, from the molecular to the evolutionary to the very fact of life itself, and what this fact means for us practically, morally and spiritually, as modern humans.

The definition of life he puts forth in this book — those systems possessing teleonomy, autonomous mor Jacques Monod won the Nobel Prize in for his work elucidating the molecular mechanisms of DNA replication.

The definition of life he puts forth in this book — those systems possessing teleonomy, autonomous morphogenesis, and reproductive invariance — is still the best I have ever heard, and I am ashamed that my teachers never taught it to me in high school.

The beauty of the book is that it situates the science of biology and the reality of the evolutionary process within its larger philosophical, historical, and conceptual contexts. Chapter 2, “Vitalisms and Animisms”, is worth the price alone. Monod dismantles every flavor of mysticism and historicist scientism in clear, devastating prose.

He discusses how Marxism took Hegel’s idealist dialectical order, an order in which the only authentic reality was mind, and applied it to the physical world, proceeding to “effect the animist projection in the most blatant manner and with all its consequences, the scrapping of the postulate of objectivity being the first.

Many have quibbled with his use of the term ‘animism’ as overly broad — nonetheless it expresses a real conceptual condition which has plagued almost every thread of human thought throughout the ages. No ideologue, Monod admits that objectivity itself has no objective premises, that it is in fact a moral position.

He also laments the split in the modern psyche between our reliance on objective knowledge for practical progress and on the older animist systems of values for our moral beliefs. In later chapters on evolution and language, Monod examines the roots of human intraspecific violence and our instinctive need for teleological explanations of our existence read: The book is of course an argument for objectivity, as he puts it “because of its prodigious power of performance”, and others notably Feyerabend have rightly taken him to task on this point.

But interestingly one gets the sense that Monod feels great wonder at the irreducible complexity of the world we inhabit — intellectually, morally, and spiritually — and at least to me this lent his concluding remarks an ambivalence which goes far beyond his words.


It is true that at the time this book was published it was considered ‘shocking’ because of its claim to have shown exactly how life evolved from purely chance procedures. Many have enumerated the gaps in the science of the day on which he based his arguments, although most of the criticism I’ve seen on this point falls under the “dark corners of our knowledge” rubric, the type of pedantic denialism founded on a false understanding of what science tells us and how it does so, and a lack of appreciation for the true depth and breadth of evidence supporting the theory of the spontaneous biogenesis and evolution of life on this planet.

Nothing we’ve learned since Monod published this book does anything but bolster his position. Jun 17, Bob Nichols rated it really liked it.

As opposed to a teleological pulling toward some end product, Monod calls this directional vector teleonomic. The end products of this are all the various life forms in our biosphere. This teleonomic principle stands in contrast, Monod argues, with vitalism and andd.

Vitalism Bergson has life infused with a mysterious impulse that is void of any predetermined purpose. Animist philosophy Leibniz, Hegel, Jacues de Chardin, Marx sees a progressive unfolding of purpose in evolution, leading to its highest expression in man. Objective knowledge is, he argues, value free except for the epistemological value of objective knowledge itself. In addition to his teleonomic principle, Monod makes some interesting observations when he applies his objective knowledge to human affairs.

He believes that language was the key selective adaptation that led to the evolution of mind. Bipedalism freed the hands to hunt. Hunting gave our ancestral line a survival advantage that began our cognitive trajectory. Necedsity required cooperation and group cohesion and these required language and cognition structures that supported sophisticated communication-based interaction. Language was the key for the development of our cognition, including most importantly the capacity for simulation.

We could act out the strategy for a hunt in our minds, which made us very effective hunters. Monod believes this cognitive development created universal language structures a la Chomsky and mental categories the innate ideas of Descartes; the a priori categories of Kant and probably created other innate capacities as well emotions?

This innateness, he argues, stands in direct contrast to all empiricist philosophy. Even today a good many distinguished minds seem unable to accept or even to understand that from a source of noise natural selection alone and unaided could have drawn all the music of the biosphere. In necssity natural selection operates upon the products of chance and can feed nowhere else; but it operates in a domain of very demanding conditions, and from this domain chance is barred.

In contrast, Monod describes the permanent, invariant nature of the organism, at its life core. This view does not negate the dialectic.

Chance and Necessity by Jacques Monod

Rather, it places the thesis part of the dialectic squarely within the organism. The dialectical process begins with life, seeking to live and to live well. We are the initiators of action in the environment that the environment in turn acts upon and both result in our transformation as a species and as individuals. Where Monod goes astray, and considerably so, is his belief in a value-free ethic of knowledge.

This leads him into some jcaques value-laden pronouncements about how society ought to be organized. The foremost problem with that approach is his belief that cognitive sophistication alone is sufficient to solve our survival and life problems.

It is interesting that nowhere in this book does Monod talk about human motivation and our emotional make up. Yet we have ample examples of intelligent people whose intelligence is driven by self-serving ends. Unfortunately, this tribal tendency might be deeply embedded in our species as one of those innate structures that Jacqjes elsewhere indicates might be present, making it fairly immune to cognitive regulation.