Synthese 198 (11):10565-10585 (2020)

Kepa Ruiz Mirazo
University of the Basque Country
During the last decades the question of defining life has gained increased interest but, at the same time, the difficulty in reaching consensus on a possible answer has led many to skeptical positions. This, in turn, has raised a wider debate about why defining life is so hard and controversial. Such a debate introduces additional aspects to be considered, like the role and nature of a definition of life itself. In this paper, we will focus on those aspects, arguing that progress can be made if we conceive definitions of life as open heuristic tools that contribute to develop specific research strategies in the biological sciences and, more generally, to increase our understanding of life’s complexity. In contrast with pragmatic or operationalist approaches, we will defend that definitions of life comprise a set of ontological assumptions, together with an inherent unifying vocation, so they should be subject to comparison and critical assessment, closely related to the success or failure of the corresponding research programs, but also to the success or failure in establishing well-grounded interconnections among the latter. We consider that the search for a more coherent, integrated and generalized theory of biology cannot be pursued without keeping an empirical standpoint, and the exercise of defining life should not be taken as an obstacle but as a valuable instrument to achieve that goal.
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DOI 10.1007/s11229-020-02736-7
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Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes.Imre Lakatos - 1970 - In Imre Lakatos & Alan Musgrave (eds.), Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge University Press. pp. 91-196.
Natural Kinds and Conceptual Change.Joseph LaPorte - 2003 - Cambridge University Press.

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