Pathways to pluralism about biological individuality

Biology and Philosophy 30 (5):609-628 (2015)
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Abstract

What are the prospects for a monistic view of biological individuality given the multiple epistemic roles the concept must satisfy? In this paper, I examine the epistemic adequacy of two recent accounts based on the capacity to undergo natural selection. One is from Ellen Clarke, and the other is by Peter Godfrey-Smith. Clarke’s position reflects a strong monism, in that she aims to characterize individuality in purely functional terms and refrains from privileging any specific material properties as important in their own right. I argue that Clarke’s functionalism impairs the epistemic adequacy of her account compared to a middle-ground position taken by Godfrey-Smith. In comparing Clarke and Godfrey-Smith’s account, two pathways emerge to pluralism about biological individuality. The first develops from the contrast between functionalist and materialist approaches, and the second from an underlying temporal structure involved in using evolutionary processes to define individuality

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Beckett Sterner
Arizona State University