The Concept of Organism: Historical, Philosophical, Scientific Perspectives: Introduction
Huneman (Philippe) & Wolfe (Charles T.)
Source: History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, Vol. 32, No. 2/3, The Concept of Organism: Historical, Philosophical, Scientific Perspectives (2010), pp. 147-154
Paper - Abstract

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Authors’ Introduction

  1. The concept of organism has been due for reconsideration for a number of years (with occasional calls for such reconsideration coming from historians, philosophers, or theoretical biologists, e.g. Benson 1989, Laubichler 2000).
  2. During the past fifteen-odd years a diverse body of work within the overall framework of the theory of evolution has called for renewed focus on the concept of organism, which had essentially disappeared with the rise of the modern synthesis in evolutionary theory, being replaced with the categories of gene and population, since evolution was defined as a process of change in allele frequencies within a population.
  3. This recent work comes out of developmental psychology, evolutionary developmental biology (see West-Eberhard 2003; Raff 1996), and also ecology (theories of ecosystem engineering and niche construction: Lal and, Feldman, Odling-Smee 2003; Jones et al. 1994).
  4. The classic parallel between organisms and insect colonies has been recently analysed anew with formal approaches (Reeve and Hollbloder 2007). Others, such as J.S. Turner have proposed the notion of an "extended organism" (Turner 2000), challenging our sense of what an organism is as being based on familiar biological individuals such as metazoans, especially in light of work on the coevolution of certain species and the extent of symbiosis and cohesion of certain insect colonies, implying that the whole multi species population may be one single individual.
  5. The outcome of this is the rather counter-intuitive thesis that certain associations between species and the abiotic environment they construct, such as termite mounds, can be considered as organisms, including in the physiological sense. Work in metaphysics (Wilson 1999) has focused on producing a concept of organism that would avoid this basic anthropocentric defect in our intuitions about organisms, since they rely too much on familiar individuals.


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