Life without definitions

Synthese 185 (1):125-144 (2012)
Abstract
The question ‘what is life?’ has long been a source of philosophical debate and in recent years has taken on increasing scientific importance. The most popular approach among both philosophers and scientists for answering this question is to provide a “definition” of life. In this article I explore a variety of different definitional approaches, both traditional and non-traditional, that have been used to “define” life. I argue that all of them are deeply flawed. It is my contention that a scientifically compelling understanding of the nature of life presupposes an empirically adequate scientific theory (vs. definition) of life; as I argue, scientific theories are not the sort of thing that can be encapsulated in definitions. Unfortunately, as I also discuss, scientists are currently in no position to formulate even a tentative version of such a theory. Recent discoveries in biology and biochemistry have revealed that familiar Earth life represents a single example that may not be representative of life. If this is the case, life on Earth today provides an empirically inadequate foundation for theorizing about life considered generally. I sketch a strategy for procuring the needed additional examples of life without the guidance of a definition or theory of life, and close with an application to NASA’s fledgling search for extraterrestrial life.
Keywords Life  Definition  Theory  Theoretical identity  Natural kinds  Anomalies
Categories No categories specified
(categorize this paper)
Options
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
 
Download options
PhilPapers Archive


Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 11,449
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

View all 16 references

Citations of this work BETA
Similar books and articles
Peter T. Macklem & Andrew Seely (2010). Towards a Definition of Life. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 53 (3):330-340.
Analytics

Monthly downloads

Added to index

2012-02-01

Total downloads

27 ( #66,054 of 1,103,233 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

5 ( #62,335 of 1,103,233 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature


Discussion
Start a new thread
Order:
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.