Defining life, explaining emergence

Bibliographical Note Abstract Explaining things - introductory remarks General attitudes and the standard view Requirements for a definition Life as the natural selection of replicators Life as an autopoietic system Life as a semiotic phenomenon Downward causation Implicitly well-defined general objects Emergence as explanatory strategy: the observer reappears Concluding remarks Acknowledgements Notes References Bibliographical note: Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the Princeton History of Science Workshop on "Growing Explanations", Princeton University, February 15, 1997; and at the meeting in the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB) in Seattle, USA, July 16-21, 1997. Different parts were published in a modified form as 1) Emmeche (1997): "Autopoietic systems, replicators, and the search for a meaningful biologic definition of life", Ultimate Reality and Meaning 20 (4): 244-264 [the original title was: "Is the definition of life important?"], and 2) Emmeche (1998): "Defining life as a semiotic phenomenon", Cybernetics & Human Knowing 5 (1): 3-17. The present web version below contains the complete argument of both articles. A further thoroughly rewritten version, accessible also for non-specialists, was made in collaboration with Charbel Niño El-Hani, and translated by him into Portuguese as a contribution to a book (this version can be found at
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