The Jacques Loeb Centre for the History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences was inaugurated on March 4, 2008 at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Named after the German-American physiologist Jacques Loeb (1859-1924), the new Centre strives to integrate philosophical thought with the natural sciences in the spirit of its namesake, a legendary experimentalist and seminal thinker in the history of biology.
The new deputy director of the Centre, Professor Anthony (Tony) S. Travis, opened the proceedings with greetings and a note of appreciation on behalf of two of Jacques Loeb's grandchildren, Dr. John N. Loeb, Professor Emeritus of Medicine at Columbia University, New York, and Professor Valerie Loeb, a marine biologist at the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, in California, and now at sea monitoring the health of the Antarctic Peninsula marine ecosystem. Travis noted that their chosen professions, as well as those of several others of Jacques Loeb's grandchildren, are ones in which Jacques Loeb would have shared an interest a century ago.
University President Professor Rivka Carmi warmly lauded the Director of the new Centre Professor Ute Deichmann and praised her foresight in establishing the interdisciplinary Centre. It marks a big step for the University, “reflecting its maturity as a comprehensive university." The initiative was praised by Rector Professor Jimmy Weinblatt, who noted that Ute Deichmann is part of the academic life at BGU and praised her initiative to create the Centre.
Opening remarks were presented by distinguished guests including Professor Michel Morange of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris, who delineated the need for such a centre. He noted that the back and forth interactions between science and philosophy are “essential" for both fields: there is a “special link between the history and philosophy of science and the life sciences, maybe because the question of life has always been an important philosophical question." He stressed that the scientific field of life sciences has undergone many transformations with the development of new technologies" and that “this rapid transformation has to be analyzed."
Professor Raphael Falk of the Department of Genetics at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem described his long associations with Beer-Sheva and Ben-Gurion University, noting that “This University has always aspired to be different" and compared its “creative yet stubborn adherence" to this standard to that of Jacques Loeb himself.
Ute Deichmann pointed out the Centre's main research focus in relationship to the life, work and philosophy of Jacques Loeb. She also explained the decision to create a centre only for the life sciences: “We are a small centre and as such have decided to start with a sharp focus. This appears to be the best way to create something like a critical mass in our adopted field. Moreover, life sciences today include other sciences, such as chemistry, physics, and crystallography, as a review of the professional backgrounds of 'life scientists' shows."
“Though at the beginning of the 21st century philosophical commitments are less explicit than in Loeb's time," explained Deichmann, “methodological, ontological, and ethical principles remain an indispensable part of scientific research."
Ute Deichmann's Inaugural Speech
The inauguration was followed with an international workshop on “Philosophies in Biology." The event brought together scholars from France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel to examine the role that different philosophical concepts have played in the development of the modern life sciences. The workshop explored the extent to which such concepts influence scientists' motives and methods, and the contents of research, through the presentation of a range of studies taken from history of science and recent scientific studies