Biological Individuality - The identity and Persistence of Living Entities
Wilson (Jack)
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Cover Blurbs

  1. In this book, Jack Wilson brings together two lines of research, theoretical biology and analytic metaphysics, that have dealt with the individuation1 of living entities in virtual isolation from one another. Wilson presents a new theory of biological individuality that addresses problems that cannot be solved by either field alone. The wide range of unfamiliar and fascinating organisms that he uses to develop his view, including slime molds, parasitic barnacles, and tardigrades, enables him to escape the limitations of theories based on thought experiments2 and the timeworn examples of organisms on which philosophers have traditionally relied. He presents a more fine-grained vocabulary of individuation3 based on diverse kinds of living things. This allows him to clarify and resolve previously muddled disputes about individuality in biology and philosophy.
    • Clarifies previously muddled disputes about individuality in biology.
    • Brings together two lines of research, theoretical biology and traditional metaphysics, as they relate to biological individuality.
    • Explains a new theory about biological individuality that addresses problems that cannot be solved by either biology or metaphysics alone.
    • This is a clearly written book of interest to philosophers of biology, metaphysicians, and biologists.
  2. Jack Wilson is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Washington and Lee University.
  3. "[Jack Wilson] presents a plausible general account of the metaphysics of identity and natural kinds4 and brings it to bear, with illuminating results, on empirical questions of individuation5 in biology. In the process, he demonstrates the inadequacy of many contemporary philosophers discussions of biological ontology ... By clarifying and distinguishing between various subtly different notions of biological individuality, all of them mutually compatible, Wilson constructs an ontological framework in which substantive questions of biological individuation6 can be perspicuously formulated."
    E.J. Lowe, University of Durham

  1. Beyond Horses and Oak Trees: A New Theory of Individuation for Living Entities
  2. The Biological and Philosophical Roots of Individuality
  3. Individuality and Equivocation
  4. The Necessity of Biological Origin and Substantial Kinds
  5. Generation and Corruption
  6. Personal Identity Naturalized: Our Bodies, Our Selves
    Appendix: Identity and Sortals: Why Relative Identity Is Self-Contradictory

Book Comment
  • Cambridge Studies in Philosophy and Biology, CUP, 1999 hardback.
  • I effectively destroyed my first copy of the book with a ludicrous number of marginal annotations and ringing of words, so I bought a second (clean) copy!
  • Adulterated copy on my Desk Shelf, while I complete the write-up from the marginal annotations!

"Olson (Eric) - Review of Jack Wilson's 'Biological Individuality: The Identity and Persistence of Living Entities'"

Source: Philosophical Quarterly, 2001, Vol. 51 Issue 203, p264-6

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 individuation1. 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.

Paper Comment

"Wilson (Jack) - Beyond Horses and Oak Trees: A New Theory of Individuation for Living Entities"

Source: Wilson, Jack - Biological Individuality: The identity and Persistence of Living Entities; 1999, Chap. 1, pp. 1-21

Author’s Abstract
    In this chapter I show that past philosophers have failed to explicate the conditions an entity must satisfy to be a living individual. I then explore the reasons for this failure and explain why we should limit ourselves to examples involving real organisms rather than use thought experiments1.

Click here2 for the meaning of any abbreviations in what follows.


1. Introduction
  • Wittgenstein quote – the need for multiple kinds of examples – Wilson will reject TEs in favour of a wide range of real examples. See Section 4.
  • Attempts to explain (in the general case) how to individuate living things have failed for two reasons:-
    1. Paucity of biological examples
    2. Being led astray by the normal cases and TEs
  • This book’s aims and achievements:-
    1. Exploration & resolution of paradoxes arising when applying traditional methods of individuation3 outside the range of the easy cases.
    2. Presentation of a new analysis of identity and persistence.
  • Counting individuals is easy for the folksy examples, but not for the oddities.
  • What is a biological individual?
  • What’s the relation between an individual and a particular? Traditionally individual has had the broader usage, and Wilson will explore the usages for:-
    → organic organisation
    → genetics
    → development
    → models of natural selection
  • Individuative methodologies derived from the conventional range of living things fail in cases where normal modes of existence involve:-
    → complex metamorphoses4
    → regeneration of lost parts
    → fission and fusion
  • Examples:-
    Armillaria bulbosa (a fungus) – “the largest individual living thing on earth”
    → Rhizocephalans (parasitic barnacles) – several distinct developmental phases
    → Strawberries – are cloned5 plants6 individuals, or is the set of cloned7 plants8 an individual and the individual plants9 not so?
  • We can’t use the characteristics of the higher animals to define the conditions of individuality in the general case
  • Indeed, we might question whether there are any necessary and sufficient conditions for individuality simpliciter.
  • Some questions:-
    1. What makes a biological entity an individual rather than a colony of individuals or a component of an individual?
    2. Epistemologically: What criteria should we use to determine that a biological entity at a time is the same one that existed earlier?
    3. Metaphysically: What biological or other processes cause substantial change?
  • Aim of the Chapter:
    1. Show that past philosophers have failed to explain the conditions an entity must satisfy to be a living individual
    2. Explore the reasons for this failure, and
    3. Explain why we should reject TEs in favour of real examples.

2. The Meaning of 'a Life'
  • Philosophers have mistakenly thought it easy to individuate living things. Wilson gives the examples of Locke and Van Inwagen.
  • Locke: the usual stuff from "Locke (John) - Of Identity and Diversity". There is no requirement for continuity of matter – because the exchange of matter with the environment in metabolism is constitutive of biological organisms – instead, it’s the continuity of a life that preserves identity. Unfortunately, Locke doesn’t explain how to individuate lives. He may think this too obvious to require explanation (for the biological individuals he considers – horses, oak trees and human beings). In these cases, and under normal circumstances, questions of persistence have easy answers.
  • Van Inwagen: Believes that the only concrete particulars that exist are simples and organisms. See "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Material Beings". For a composite object to exist, its parts must be connected by a special type of causal connection – the parts must constitute a life. Van Inwagen describes a life as an “unimaginably complex self-maintaining storm of atoms”. He also describes it as a homeodynamic event, but thinks it’s the job of the biologist to work out how a life differs from other events. Wilson agrees, but thinks the biologist needs some help. His main concern seems to be that Van Inwagen’s account of a life doesn’t distinguish individuals from their parts or from aggregates of individuals.
  • Locke and Van Inwagen agree in taking a life as being an intuitively clear idea to be used in elucidating more complex matters such as persistence and mereology. But this is all wrong. Even if we could provide necessary and sufficient conditions for being alive, we’d still need to know whether a mass of living tissue constitutes a single living being.
  • Wilson diagnoses the problem for this blind-spot as a poor choice of examples, to which he now turns.

3. The Poverty of Examples
  • The familiar cases of horses and oak trees don’t force us to examine our intuitions like the unusual ones that lead to paradox – “Our basic assumptions about individuality become contingent facts to be explained” – though even ordinary cases (says a footnote) raise awkward questions. An example is the question whether a horse was ever a zygote10, and if (counterfactually) the zygote11 had twinned12, which of the twins13 would our horse be?
  • Wilson has surveyed the examples in the philosophical literature since Aristotle, and found four categories:-
    1. Common plants14 and metazoan animals
    2. People
    3. Artefacts, and
    4. Science fiction fantasies
  • He claims that the poverty of real examples is matched by the oddity of the TEs, which include:-
    → grossly mutated dogs
    → werewolves
    → people who fission
  • Wilson leaves questions of Human identity and Personal Identity until the last Chapter ("Wilson (Jack) - Personal Identity Naturalized: Our Bodies, Our Selves").
  • The “normal cases” share the following characteristics15:-
    1. Easily countable because clearly demarcated from their environment and other organisms of the same kind
    2. Reproduce sexually
    3. Develop from a single cell
    4. Genetically homogeneous
    5. Multicellular
  • Most living things – in terms of number of species, number of organisms or biomass don’t share properties 1 – 5.
  • Of the 5-kingdom taxonomy16 of terrestrial life, only plants17 and animals are represented by the usual examples; and, horses and oak-trees are not typical members of their own kingdoms either.
  • How do we count these organisms – the matter may still not be clear even if we know all the functional and historical facts about the living thing in question. And invoking Locke’s “answer” of counting individual lives just replaces one difficult question by another equally difficult one.
  • Artefacts18 are not helpful analogues, as living things are not artefacts, and can change their constitutive matter in a fashion and at a rate that inanimate objects can’t.
  • Wilson now considers four real cases that are difficult to explain using the common sense notion of an individual, namely:-
    1. Colonial siphonophores
    2. Butterflies
    3. Blackberries.
    4. Cellular slime-molds
    See the book for the details; I’ve just abstracted some key points below:-
  • Colonial siphonophores: these look like jellyfish, but are in fact colonies of zooids, though co-ordination is achieved by interconnections between the individuals’ nervous systems. Note that the zooids have different functions within the colony but don’t just “come together”, but bud off from an initial zygote19, in an analogous manner to cell differentiation (it seems to me), and while remaining loosely connected. We are referred to E. O. Wilson’s Sociobiology20. (Jack) Wilson asks whether the siphonophore colony is a single individual or is each zooid an individual? He claims that neither our common-sense intuitions21 nor appeals to “a life” help us here.
  • Butterflies: it seems that a caterpillar has encapsulated within it a collection of imaginal discs, which are small groups of undifferentiated cells that are inactive during the larval stage. These feed on the dissolved caterpillar body inside the cocoon. Under hormonal action they differentiate into the various parts of the adult imago. While the butterfly is genetically identical to the caterpillar, Wilson is unclear whether we have one or two lives here. He doesn’t give examples, but states that:-
    1. There are degrees of metamorphosis22,
    2. Some organisms go through several developmental stages as radically discontinuous as that for the butterfly, and
    3. Others have stages composed of more than one organism.
  • Blackberries: Propagate either through seed or via underground runners, which may or may not become detached. What, therefore, is an individual plant? Other similar examples are some ferns, fungi and bamboo.
  • Cellular slime-molds: a colony of amoeba-like cells that form a slug-like grex which has front and back, responds to light and moves like an organism.
  • Wilson doubts that there is a set of necessary and sufficient conditions for being a biological individual, but he provides this list for the paradigmatic cases:-
    1. Spatio-temporal continuity
    2. Spatio-temporal boundedness
    3. Composition of heterogeneous causally-related parts
    4. Development from a single cell to a multicellular body
    5. Functional impairment following damage to parts
    6. Sexual reproduction
    7. Genetic homogeneity
  • This is a practical list, which may be no use in a philosophical or scientific context, and won’t deal with paradoxical cases. Wilson will look to extend the common-sense definition, and will not ring-fence any of these conditions. His approach will be to consider real examples of those things we consider individuals and those we don’t.
  • Some entities have only some of these properties, or have them to different degrees. Lichens are symbiotic combinations of algae and fungus, yet our folk-ontology has them as individuals.

4. Imaginary Examples and Conceptual Analysis
  • TEs23 are fun, but may mislead. They are often under-specified. Just what are the details of a centaur’s biology? See "Rescher (Nicholas) - Thought Experiments in Presocratic Philosophy" in "Horowitz (Tamara) & Massey (Gerald J.) - Thought Experiments in Science and Philosophy".
  • Wilson prefers real cases to TEs, for the following three reasons he develops further later on:-
    1. He’s only interested in this world24, not any possible one.
    2. There are lots of real problem cases, and they come with fully discoverable background conditions.
    3. TEs depend for their effectiveness on a correspondence between intuition and reality. This connection fails where either we imagine the impossible or fail to imagine the possible.
  • J. B. S. Haldane quote “The world is not only queerer than we imagine, it’s queerer than we can imagine”. The real world doesn’t suffer from the poverty of my imagination.
  • Since real cases are actual, they must be possible. We can’t say the same of TEs, because BG assumptions are sometimes obscured to the benefit of the particular axe that the TE’s inventor has to grind.
  • The further we are from the ordinary, the less reliable our intuitions are.
  • TEs are most popular for identity, especially PID25. Wilson’s examples:-
    1. The Ship of Theseus26.
    2. Marjorie Price’s metamorphosing dogs.
    3. Teletransportation27 (whether matter-beam or blueprint).
  • Impossible TEs (says Wilson):-
    1. Descartes’ Real Distinction argument (Click here for Note) - can Descartes really imagine what he thinks he can?
    2. "Price (Marjorie) - Identity Through Time": Rover metamorphoses28 over a 6-month isolation period into Clover – an amorphous mass of cells with different chromosomes – after a trip to Mars, yet Clover is still Rover. Is it, and could this really happen to a dog29 ?
  • Wilson admits that some TEs are innocent enough – those that relate to experiments that could be done, but are not – what "Wilkes (Kathleen) - Thought Experiments" calls “merely imagined”. Somewhere between these and Descartes’ Real Distinction argument is the line beyond which TEs become suspicious.
  • Wilson quotes "Van Inwagen (Peter) - Naive Mereology, Admissible Valuations, and Other Matters" to the effect that literary fantasies are inadmissible, and may result in conceptual falsehoods. The Terminator has nothing to say on the possibility of time travel30. Such fantasies blur the distinction between truth and “truth within the story31”. A sketchy account can include an utter impossibility32 as an essential detail.
  • Micro-Man versus Giant-Ant Example: This TE is described and critiqued in the obvious manner, to the effect that any world in which this TE occurs would need physical laws radically different to those in our33 world.
  • Wilson approves of the distrust of Parfit’s34 TE whereby “we” split like amoebae shown in "Wilkes (Kathleen) - Thought Experiments" on the grounds that everything35 would be so unimaginably different in such a world that we wouldn’t know which of our background assumptions would remain constant, and so wouldn’t know what to draw from the TE.
  • The moral is that most TEs leave the background assumptions – in particular the applicability of our concepts – dangerously unspecified. It may seem the same to know something is possible as against knowing it not to be impossible, but it isn’t the same at all.
  • Our concepts36 are not usually claimed to apply in every possible world, so stressing them in this way isn’t relevant37 if they operate well enough in the contexts for which they were introduced. If the claim is the modest one that the concept is adequate for our world, then showing that it doesn’t apply in every possible world isn’t relevant.
  • Wilson quotes "Gale (Richard) - On Some Pernicious Thought-Experiments" to the effect that in the possible world of the TE, our language games and forms of life would have no application38 as “the empirical presuppositions for doing so are not realised”. Toots that are fine for one job may be no use for another – what’s the problem?
  • Wilson admits that there may be reason to stretch a concept – but that real counter-examples provide a better reason for doing so than do imaginary cases.
  • There may be no necessary and sufficient conditions for the application of our concepts, as common-sense notions don’t necessarily pick out natural kinds39.
  • Our concepts are not freely chosen, but derive from our environment. As our environment expands – by attention to real “difficult cases” our concepts – in this case of what an individual is – should also expand. The cases under consideration will be those that don’t satisfy (or mostly don’t satisfy) the common-sense criteria offered above.
  • Before considering what concept(s) should replace our common sense concept of individuality, Wilson will explore in the next section the framework within which the question can be addressed.

5. What is It?
  • The aim of this book is to develop a new theory of biological individuation40 and persistence, making it a contribution to metaphysics as well as to the philosophy of biology. In the rest of this chapter, Wilson develops his metaphysical framework.
  • His first assumption – which he takes to be mainstream if not uncontroversial – is that “a living entity is a potentially finite three-dimensional persisting object”. This involves denying that it is a construction of momentary objects41 or time-slices42. The “potential43 finitude” clause imports that there are changes that will terminate the existence of the individual, as well as allowing that there are more benign changes the individual can survive.
  • Wilson thinks some will reject the “temporal44 essentialism” implicit in this assumption. He unpacks this worry by explaining that it implies that an individual has some essential45 properties without which it cannot survive.
  • Wilson thinks essentialism is unfairly maligned – being tarred with the brush of a version that species46 have stereotypical properties.
  • Even before we know what the full complement of essential properties (for an individual) is, we know that if it is not immortal, there are some changes that it cannot survive. Wilson gives the example of a magnolia tree – it is not possible that it would survive47 being burnt to ashes, or metamorphosing into an animal.
  • The objection to essentialism is indeed species-essentialism, whereby it is the possession of a particular morphological trait that qualifies an individual as a member of a species, which is explanatory and plays an important role in biological organisation. Mayr, Hull and Dupre are martialed as opponents of this idea, eg.:-
    → "Hull (David L.) - The Effect of Essentialism on Taxonomy - Two Thousand Years of Stasis (I)",
    → "Hull (David L.) - The Effect of Essentialism on Taxonomy - Two Thousand Years of Stasis (II)",
    → "Dupre (John) - The Disorder of Things: Metaphysical Foundations of the Disunity of Science".
  • Wilson rehearses the rejection of Platonic archetypes and Aristotelian substantial forms once evolution48 by natural selection had turned biology into a historical science. Essences became illegitimate in scientific explanation. But this is not the essentialist doctrine Wilson supports.
  • Locke coined the term “sortal49”, taken up by Wiggins50 in "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance", where a distinction is made between Phase Sortals51 and Substance Sortals52. While some philosophers use the terms sortal53 for any sorting term, Wilson will support those who restrict its use to identify members of a substantial kind, which supplies the most basic answer to the question “What is it?”.
  • A sortal54 is a substantial sortal55 just in case a thing correctly identified as falling under it cannot cease to fulfil the criteria of identity56 associated with that sortal57 without ceasing to exist.
  • Wilson gives the example of the sortals58:-
    → Well-dressed man (WDM), and
    → Human being
    A WDM doesn’t59 cease to exist when dressed like a tramp, but a human being ceases to exist60 as a corpse61.
  • On examination, a living thing is not just a “thing” but one of a particular kind, of which it must belong to one or another. If so, it can’t be a thing simpliciter, but a substantial sortal62 defines what kind of thing it is.
  • But this does not yet rule out the possibility of a bare particular63 - something that can undergo any change whatever, while remaining numerically the same thing. At any one time it has to belong to one kind or another, but can hop64 from kind to kind as its career progresses.
  • Wilson doesn’t think there are any bare particulars. He’s not sure whether the concept of a bare particular is coherent, but for simplicity’s sake he’ll focus on the possibility that a living thing might be a bare particular. We’ll see what his reasons are for denying this possibility in due course65, but they start from the claim that the statement “Every thing is a thing of some kind” is ambiguous between:-
    1. A thing must belong to some kind or other at every time it exists; and
    2. A thing must be a thing of some kind or other, and there must be a kind such that it is of that kind throughout its existence.
  • In a footnote, Wilson points out that even (b) allows for the possibility that a thing might (counterfactually) have been of a substantial kind other than it actually is, provided it was of that kind from the start of its actual existence. He rejects the possibility, but can’t explain why until "Wilson (Jack) - The Necessity of Biological Origin and Substantial Kinds" (but, as the title suggests, it is due to origin essentialism66).
  • Anyway, (a) but not (b) is consistent with bare particulars. Wilson rehearses the metamorphosis67 of a bare particular from one kind to another, always belonging to a kind, but not to the same one68. There might be no sortal69 under which it falls for the whole of its existence. He notes in a footnote that Aristotle (in the Categories70 ) allows for bare particulars.
  • A particular fulfilling (b) is a substantial particular. Wilson claims that because living things are spatially and temporally finite 3-dimensonal entities, there are some changes they cannot undergo – which if they were to undergo them would result in their death or annihilation71. If so, it has essential properties without which it would cease to exist; and this implies that there is at least one substantial kind that characterises it throughout its existence. This is a deliverance of common-sense ontology72.
  • The “at least one” provision follows Wiggins73 ("Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance", p. 60 – ie. "Wiggins (David) - Outline of a Theory of Individuation (S&S)") in allowing a thing to belong to more than one substantial kind simultaneously, provided (of course) that these kinds have the same persistence conditions74.
  • It’s an empirical matter what the persistence conditions75 of any substantial kind are, and also to which substantial kind a particular belongs. There’s no guarantee that we should ever know the answer to either of these questions – though we do know that a living thing does belong to a substantial kind76.
  • So, what are the substantial kinds? He quotes (and is generally supportive of) "Lowe (E.J.) - Kinds of Being: Study of Individuation, Identity and the Logic of Sortal Terms", p. 577, to the effect that if we are realists as far as individuals are concerned, we must be realists as far as substantial kinds are concerned. This is because individuals are necessarily of a certain kind, and kinds are necessarily kinds of individuals. Individuals and substantial kinds exist irrespective of the existence of our or any minds.
  • Lowe is considering both natural78 and non-natural kinds (ie. artefacts79). Wilson (and Lowe) are more certain of natural than artificial kinds being of mind-independent reality.
  • Wilson seems to argue circularly about real individuals implying real kinds, and real kinds implying real individuals.
  • He stresses that what living things there are has nothing to do with our interests, or what we happen to notice.
  • It’s up to science to determine what are the substantial kinds, but philosophy can tell us what must be true of them, whatever they are. In particular, it tells us that an individual of substantial kind F ceases to exist when it ceases to be an F.
  • He considers Transubstantiation80, where it is alleged that we can have a single individual that is of one substantial kind F at one time, and another G at another, there F<>G. There are several options open to us where we have a putative (but impossible) case of the transubstantiation of a living thing:-
    1. x does not survive the change from F to G: Wilson gives the options as annihilation, decay or fission81. If one of these (or maybe another) situation is not the case, then the situation has been misdescribed.
    2. x survives
      1. x survives, but F turns out not to be a substantial sortal82: so, F is one of the two83 varieties of phase sortal84.
      2. x survives, but x turns out not to be of kind F: for instance, individuals of kind G mimic those of kind F for part of their life, but are always of kind G for all that.
      3. x survives, but x really is of kind F : either (much as above) x looks like a G, but is in fact an F still. Alternatively, G is a phase sortal85 compatible with F, so x’s substantial kind remains F.
  • If transubstantiation is impossible, and individual living entity must remain under one substantial kind for the period of its existence. But, Wilson hasn’t adjudicated between different systems86 of substantial kinds. In the next chapter ("Wilson (Jack) - The Biological and Philosophical Roots of Individuality") he will consider philosophical accounts of individuality, and why we should care about it.

Outstanding Tasks
  1. Review the critique of unspecified BG assumptions / concepts in "Wilkes (Kathleen) - Thought Experiments".
  2. Urgently read:-
    → "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance", and
    → "Wiggins (David) - Sameness and Substance Renewed".
  3. Populate the Notes on:- .

Paper Comment

Printout of write-up filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 19 (W)".

In-Page Footnotes ("Wilson (Jack) - Beyond Horses and Oak Trees: A New Theory of Individuation for Living Entities")

Footnote 10:
  • Problems like this incline Olson to deny that we were ever zygotes (though perdurantism would allow us to say that we were, it seems to me).
Footnote 15:
  • We might ask why we care about these restrictions – maybe we’re only interested in organisms of the “normal” kind? Wilson’s response to this unasked question appears to be in the following bullet.
Footnote 16:
  • The 5 kingdoms are Monera (Prokaryota), Protista, Fungi, Plantae, and Animalia. See Wikipedia: Kingdom (biology) (for instance) for further information. No doubt we could dispute whether this “two out of five kingdoms” point weighs the kingdoms appropriately – and what criteria for weighting are appropriate in the first place. Or, as noted previously, we might just not care about the individuation of non-animals (or even non-higher-animals), or at least not see why they all need to be satisfied by a single criterion.
Footnote 20: Footnote 21:
  • The colony is functionally isomorphic to a jellyfish, so it seems to me the issue has to do with the degree of integration of the cells and organs, and their ability to survive in isolation from one another. Also, the degree of neurological integration is important (cf. the dicephalus).
Footnote 24:
  • Question: Currently we can’t “do” brain transplants, but one day we might be able to do. Just what is “this world”?
Footnote 25:
  • Question: Is there really such a plethora of actual exotic cases in Personal Identity, which means that we can do without TEs?
Footnote 29:
  • Presumably this is a process that could happen; but is “it” – the mass of cells – still a dog? If not, could Clover really be (identical to) Rover? Is this a conceptual issue – that things cannot change their primary kind – assumed to be DOG in the case of dogs – or has it to do with the empirical possibilities open to the natural kind DOG?
Footnote 31: Footnote 32:
  • But, presumably, if we ask enough questions about the missing details in the TE or literary fantasy we can expose the impossibilities. Also, the impossibility of such fantasies is conceptually revealing, and so helpful. We don’t find impossibilities in nature, so need TEs to reveal them.
Footnote 33:
  • So, what might be metaphysically possible might not be nomologically possible. This is important when we consider minds, which supervene on real physical things (brains), and so might not exist if the laws of nature were significantly different.
Footnote 35:
  • Is it really the case that everything would be so different in this case?
Footnote 36: Footnote 37:
  1. But surely TEs help us to prise apart what we habitually run together, and
  2. Sometimes we want to consider what would happen in worlds other than our own – or at least in (what may be) aspects of our world of which we have no direct experience - eg. resurrection.
Footnote 38:
  • But, surely, this has to be reviewed on a case by case basis – though it is an important warning. Also, doesn’t this objection apply as much to obscure real-world cases that were not pre-supposed when our concepts were created? As noted before, if our concept INDIVIDUAL works OK for oak-trees, horses and the like, when what does it matter if it fails for slime-moulds?
Footnote 39:
  • What’s the justification for introducing natural kinds here? Is the idea that without a covering natural kind concept, the boundaries of the concept will be arbitrary or conventional, or even that the concept will be ill-defined?
Footnote 41: Footnote 42: Footnote 43:
  • The “potential” seems a little quaint, in that no-one believes in the possibility of everlasting organisms.
Footnote 44:
  • I understand property-essentialism, but the use of the term “temporal” implies that the doctrine has something to do with a philosophy of time, when it doesn’t, other than that we’re talking about persistence of an object through time. Wilson has a footnote – in which he points out that this assumption – of temporal essentialism – doesn’t imply the modal essentialism he argues for in "Wilson (Jack) - The Necessity of Biological Origin and Substantial Kinds"; but the footnote otherwise just repeats what he had said earlier about temporal essentialism, without explaining the “temporal”. “Temporal essentialism” is hot a technical term in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Footnote 45:
  • Might it not be – as with games and family resemblances – while no one property is essential, that we need “enough” to the “right degree”?
Footnote 46: Footnote 47:
  • But, is this so obviously so, in either case?
    1. People have imagined the Phoenix – or Dracula – being regenerated from the ashes (and something similar was imagined in a recent episode of Torchwood - the hero was splatted to bits but somehow regenerated). Now these TEs might be incoherent (as they most certainly are) but some discussion is required.
    2. Metamorphosis is a complex matter – if (say) a grub persists to the imago via the pupa, why couldn’t a tree metamorphose into an animal, if it did so gradually enough and we had a detailed story to tell? Again, the story would probably be incoherent, but the tale needs telling.
Footnote 50: Footnote 59:
  • I’m not sure this is expressed correctly. The human being who was well-dressed doesn’t cease to exist, yet there’s no WDM in evidence.
Footnote 60:
  • Occasionally, Wilson uses the verb “living” instead of “existing” – we need to be careful as they are not the same concept. Life is a biological term, and if non-biological entities are said to “live” then we have widened the scope of the term. This should make us wary of talking about “artificial life” or “spiritual life”.
Footnote 61: Footnote 63:
  • See Haecceity. Wilson isn’t contradicting himself here, because at a time a thing still has to belong to one kind or another. But, I had thought that a bare particular could belong to no kind at all.
Footnote 64:
  • So, we would have unrestricted metamorphosis involving change of kind.
Footnote 65:
  • Ensure that we do, and remove this footnote if so!
Footnote 66: Footnote 68:
  • So, transubstantiation involves a bare particular, and so would resurrection, if the resurrection body has different persistence conditions to the mortal one (as it must) – though this is to hop on a bit, relying as it does on a kind being defined by its persistence criteria. So, are we bare particulars? Only, I suppose, if we are essentially bodies (and can survive resurrection). If we are essentially immaterial – souls (say) – then our bodies might be inessential attributes that can be changed like clothes (which seems to be the Pauline take on the matter).
Footnote 70: Footnote 71:
  • Are death and annihilation supposed to be the same thing? They aren’t, and don’t seem to exhaust the possibilities. Can a thing cease to be without either dying or being annihilated? What happens when Goliath is squished so that only Lump1 still exists? (see "Gibbard (Allan) - Contingent Identity")
Footnote 72:
  • I couldn’t really follow the argument here, and have rather unsuccessfully re-ordered it.
Footnote 73: Footnote 76:
  • Because it’s of finite duration, there must be a change it cannot survive, so there must be a property it cannot survive the loss of, and so it must belong to one or more substantial kinds defined by this property.
Footnote 77: Footnote 79:
  • Though he also refers to “other non-living natural objects”. Does this include, for instance, gold? Some such also certainly seem mind-independent, though mountains, say, may not be?
Footnote 80:
  • Wilson isn’t considering the Eucharistic sense here.
  • Does what follows really prove that transubstantiation involves a contradiction, or does it just depend on there being no bare particulars? And wasn’t the rejection of bare particulars just a premise?
  • Presumably ruling out transubstantiation rules out resurrection (unless we are of the substantial kind “embodied person”, variously embodied).
  • Does it also rule out relative identity as self-contradictory?
Footnote 81:
  • Given that Wilson doesn’t accept 4D, fission is equivalent to perishing.
Footnote 83:
  • What are these? I thought the only example Wilson gave of a phase sortal was “a well-dressed man”.
Footnote 86:
  • By which, I think, he means “what substantial kinds there are”.

"Wilson (Jack) - The Biological and Philosophical Roots of Individuality"

Source: Wilson, Jack - Biological Individuality: The identity and Persistence of Living Entities; 1999, Chap. 2, pp. 22-47

Author’s Abstract

In this Chapter I begin by briefly exploring some of the ways in which individuality is an important first topic for biologists, even those without a theoretical bent. I end the first section with a pair of case studies demonstrating the reality of the problem I hope to solve. In the following sections I sketch some representative philosophical positions about the substantial kinds for living things. I end this chapter by developing a theory of natural kinds1 that will effectively underwrite the particular ontology of living things that I will develop in Chapter 3.

  1. Why Biologists (Should) Care About Individuality;
  2. Philosophers on Living Entities;
  3. Natural Kinds2 and Substantial Kinds;
  4. Patterns and Natural Kinds3.

"Wilson (Jack) - Individuality and Equivocation"

Source: Wilson, Jack - Biological Individuality: The identity and Persistence of Living Entities; 1999, Chap. 3, pp. 48-68

Author’s Abstract
  1. Paradigm Individuals: the Higher Animals. I need a more refined vocabulary of individuation1 to describe and classify the diversity of life cycle and modes of growth and reproduction found in nature. In this section I begin to develop this vocabulary by examining the properties of an adult higher animal that make it a paradigm of biological individuality.
  2. Other Possible Solutions. How do we individuate and count organisms that are not like higher animals?
  3. The Proposed Solution. We must reform the concept of an individual in biology so that it is applicable to all living things. The higher animal deserves a special place in biological thought because it marks the coextension of six kinds of individuality (A particular; a historical entity; a functional individual; a genetic individual; a developmental individual; and a unit of evolution)2. But if we realize that these six concepts can be divided from one another, we can develop a useful vocabulary that describes all living entities, most of which do not embody all of the concepts.

"Wilson (Jack) - The Necessity of Biological Origin and Substantial Kinds"

Source: Wilson, Jack - Biological Individuality: The identity and Persistence of Living Entities; 1999, Chap. 4, pp. 69-81

Author’s Abstract

In this chapter I argue that some features of a living entity’s biological origin as essential to it and explore the implications of this view for an entity’s sex and species membership. I argue that a living individual of any kind necessarily has its actual biological origins. The necessity of origin for biological entities guarantees that an entity is by necessity a member of whatever substantial kind it is actually a member. This alone does not entail that an individual will have the phenotype typical to the genetic makeup its sex chromosomes or an essential nature derived from its species membership. This chapter concludes my treatment of identity as a time.

  1. A Valid Argument for Sortal1 Essentialism;
  2. The Necessity of Biological Origin;
  3. Sex;
  4. Species Membership and the Necessity of Genealogy

"Wilson (Jack) - Generation and Corruption"

Source: Wilson, Jack - Biological Individuality: The identity and Persistence of Living Entities; 1999, Chap. 5, pp. 86-104

Author’s Abstract

A living thing of a particular kind begins to exist when an entity first exists that meets the criteria of identity1 through time for living substantial individuals of that kind. That entity ceases to exist when it ceases to meet them. In this chapter I trace several representative life histories for living individuals of the substantial kinds I identified in Chapter 3 and elaborate on the relations between individuals of these kinds through time. In the following sections I explore the origins, growth, and eventual demise of each kind of living individual by considering a number of examples. Towards the end of the chapter I examine whether death is necessarily the end of the entity. I am convinced that a living thing can die and then live again. If Walt Disney actually had been preserved cryogenically after his death and later revived, he would still be Walt Disney.

  1. Genetic Individuals
  2. Functional Individuals
  3. Developmental Individuals
  4. Raising the Dead

"Wilson (Jack) - Personal Identity Naturalized: Our Bodies, Our Selves"

Source: Wilson, Jack - Biological Individuality: The identity and Persistence of Living Entities; 1999, Chap. 6, pp. 105-118

Author’s Abstract
  1. I think that the important issues of human identity can be resolved without recourse to treating person1 as a substantial kind2.
  2. Now that I have developed a system of individuation3, it seems appropriate to explore its application to human beings and personal identity.
  3. I intend for my account of biological individuality to provide grounds for individuating all living things, so it should apply to human beings.
  4. In the sections below I discuss the different kinds of biological individuality as they apply to human beings. This discussion provides the groundwork for an exploration of the connection between personal identity and the biological identity of a human organism4.

  1. Human Beings as Biological Entities. A human being is a higher animal. As such, a human being is one of the easier living things to individuate and trace through time. In this section I explain the different kinds of biological individuality as they apply to human beings and describe the persistence conditions5 for each.
  2. Is a Person6 a Human Being7? In this section I explain how the different kinds of biological individuality relate to personal identity.
  3. Conclusions. The reality of a kind as a substantial kind depends on whether or not an entity of that kind ceases to exist if it loses the properties characteristic of that kind. The loss of one or more faculties of a human being or nonhuman animal (such as of being a conscious agent, having a unified personality8 or being worthy of moral consideration) is a tragedy that will affect the way we interact with that creature, but it does not cause that creature to cease to exist. This judgment is subject to revision.

"Wilson (Jack) - Identity and Sortals: Why Relative Identity Is Self-Contradictory"

Source: Wilson, Jack - Biological Individuality: The identity and Persistence of Living Entities; 1999, Appendix, pp. 119-126

Author’s Abstract

In this appendix, I explore the role of substantial sortals1 in the relation of identity. Conclusion: Identity is a primitive and absolute relation. Although using a sortal2 term may be the only way or the best way to clarify of what entity identity is being asserted, the sortal3 does not play any essential role in the formulation of that assertion of identity. It may give the conditions of identity and unity4 for an entity of that kind. Different sortals5 do not mark different kinds of identity. The sortal6 term will specify what kind of thing is asserted about which identity and give the conditions of identity.

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