Conceptualizing the Environment in Natural Sciences: Guest Editorial

Biological Theory 17 (1):1-3 (2020)
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The concept of biological inheritance has recently been extended so as to integrate, among other elements, parts of organisms’ environments. The literature refers to the trans-generational reconstruction of these parts in terms of environmental or ecological inheritance. This article’s main objective is to clarify the different meanings of "environmental inheritance," to underline so far unnoticed theoretical difficulties associated to this polysemous notion and to consequently argue that inheritance, even when extended, should be theoretically distinguished from trans-generational environmental stability. After disentangling the different meanings of environmental inheritance, I underline that studies dealing with this concept place themselves in the wake of earlier contributions about biological environment and elaborate on the role of organisms in the determination of their relevant developmental and selective surroundings. This leads me to question the legitimacy of the category shift operated by niche inheritance proponents—from environment to inheritance—and to explain why the very concept of inherited environment shows important and so far unnoticed theoretical limitations. In this context, I assert the necessity to distinguish two related but different research programs: the construction of a finer-grained theory of environment and the elaboration of an extended theory of inheritance.



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Author Profiles

Antoine C. Dussault
Centre Interuniversitaire De Recherche Sur La Science Et La Technologie (CIRST)
Francesca Merlin
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

Citations of this work

Where organisms meet the environment.Jan Baedke & Tatjana Buklijas - 2023 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 99 (C):4-9.

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The Dialectical Biologist.Philip Kitcher, Richard Levins & Richard Lewontin - 1989 - Philosophical Review 98 (2):262.
An organizational account of biological functions.Matteo Mossio, Cristian Saborido & Alvaro Moreno - 2009 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60 (4):813-841.
The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, and Environment.Richard Lewontin - 2000 - Journal of the History of Biology 33 (3):611-612.
Human nature and cognitive–developmental niche construction.Karola Stotz - 2010 - Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 9 (4):483-501.

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