What is the Problem of Biological Individuality?
Olson (Eric)
Source: Meincke (Anne Sophie) & Dupre (John), Eds. - Biological Identity: Perspectives from Metaphysics and the Philosophy of Biology
Paper - Abstract

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Editors’ Abstract1

  1. Having seen how different metaphysical frameworks impact on the understanding of biological identity, the time has come for some foundational reflections. Eric Olson’s chapter addresses, from a metaphysical perspective, the question ‘What is the Problem of Biological Individuality?’ with the aim of better understanding what could actually count as a solution of this problem.
  2. Olson argues that philosophers of biology tend to misstate the problem of biological individuality as a result of certain metaphysical presumptions that are inadequately reflected upon: instead of asking what regions are occupied by an organism, philosophers of biology are searching for a definition of ‘biological individual’ or, more specifically, of ‘organism’.
  3. Using the examples of the genetic theory and the functional-integration theory of biological individuality, Olson identifies what he calls the principle of material plenitude as being mainly responsible for this definition-orientated approach. This principle, following from the conjunction of temporal-parts ontology and the doctrine of unrestricted composition, holds that every matter-filled spacetime region is occupied by a material thing.
  4. Olson concludes by proposing an existential rather than definitional statement of the problem of biological identity, which does not presuppose the principle of material plenitude or any other controversial metaphysical thesis.


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In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1:

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