Negotiating boundaries in the definition of life: Wittgensteinian and Darwinian insights on resolving conceptual border conflicts [Book Review]
David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Ezio Di Nucci
Jack Alan Reynolds
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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|
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References found in this work BETA
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1980). Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology. Basil Blackwell.
Erwin Schrödinger (1944). What is Life? The Physical Aspect of the Living Cell. Cambridge University Press.
Ernst Mayr & Edward O. Wilson (1999). This Is Biology: The Science of the Living World. Journal of the History of Biology 32 (2):385-394.
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