Review of Jack Wilson's 'Biological Individuality: The Identity and Persistence of Living Entities'
Olson (Eric)
Source: Philosophical Quarterly, 2001, Vol. 51 Issue 203, p264-6
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Author’s Introduction

  1. This book asks 'What is a living individual?'. Since 'living individual' is a biologist's term of art, the rest of us might wonder what this means. Since Wilson makes no attempt to say what makes something living, as opposed to non-living, he seems to be asking about what concrete particular living things there are, and about their identity and individuation. This is an excellent question, and one that has bothered me ever since I first read "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Material Beings" (1990).
  2. Wilson's answer is surprising: living things come in at least six different basic kinds, though he focuses on just three.
    • A genetic individual comes into being when a cell develops a genotype different from that of its immediate ancestors. It is made up at any time of just those cells that descend from that original cell and share its genotype, and perishes when no such cells remain.
    • Things compose a functional individual when they are 'causally integrated into a functional unit', regardless of their genetic make-up or origin. A functional individual perishes when it dies or otherwise becomes functionally disintegrated.
    • A developmental individual is anything (presumably any maximal thing) that develops from a single cell or group of undifferentiated cells, where this 'development' is understood to preclude the sort of reduction to a single cell or group of undifferentiated cells that marks the start of a new develop-mental process. (This category seems not to apply to single-celled organisms.)
    These and other kinds determine different and incompatible identity-conditions; so nothing can belong to more than one of them.
  3. Wilson thinks that philosophers have failed to distinguish among these different kinds because they have considered only higher animals, in which the kinds mainly coincide. A horse is functionally integrated, is genetically homogeneous and develops from a single cell (though on his view the functional horse, the genetic horse and the developmental horse are numerically different). But the three kinds can come apart. Wilson claims that in most living things they do so.

Comment:

Review of "Wilson (Jack) - Biological Individuality - The identity and Persistence of Living Entities"

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)

  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
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