Negotiating boundaries in the definition of life: Wittgensteinian and Darwinian insights on resolving conceptual border conflicts [Book Review]

Synthese 185 (1):5-20 (2012)
What is the definition of life? Artificial life environments provide an interesting test case for this classical question. Understanding what such systems can tell us about biological life requires negotiating the tricky conceptual boundary between virtual and real life forms. Drawing from Wittgenstein’s analysis of the concept of a game and a Darwinian insight about classification, I argue that classifying life involves both causal and pragmatic elements. Rather than searching for a single, sharp definition, these considerations suggest that life is a cluster concept with fuzzy boundaries and that there are multiple legitimate ways to make the notion precise for different scientific purposes. This pluralist, realist account avoids unnecessary border disputes by emphasizing how science negotiates such questions in relation to theory and evidence. I also discuss several objections to this approach, including a “moral hesitation” some have to allowing broader application of the concept of life to include artificial life.
Keywords Artificial life  Classification  Cluster concept  Darwinian evolution  Definition of life  Digital evolution  Pluralism
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s11229-011-9873-0
 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: 16,667
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 10 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Peter T. Macklem & Andrew Seely (2010). Towards a Definition of Life. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 53 (3):330-340.
Margaret A. Boden (2009). Life and Mind. Minds and Machines 19 (4):453-463.
Brian L. Keeley (1998). Artificial Life for Philosophers. Philosophical Psychology 11 (2):251 – 260.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

19 ( #147,771 of 1,726,249 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

1 ( #369,877 of 1,726,249 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

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