Authors
Charles T. Wolfe
University of Venice
Abstract
The organism is neither a discovery like the circulation of the blood or the glycogenic function of the liver, nor a particular biological theory like epigenesis or preformationism. It is rather a concept which plays a series of roles, sometimes masked, often normative, throughout the history of biology. Indeed, it has often been presented as a key-concept in life science and its ‘theorization’, but conversely has also been the target of influential rejections: as just an instrument of transmission for the selfish gene, but also, historiographically, as part of an outdated ‘vitalism’. Indeed, the organism, perhaps because it is experientially closer to the ‘body’ than to the ‘molecule’, is often the object of quasi-affective theoretical investments presenting it as essential, as the pivot of a science or a particular approach to nature, while other approaches reject or attack it with equal force, assimilating it to a mysterious ‘vitalist’ ontology of extra-causal forces, or other pseudo-scientific doctrines. I do not seek to adjudicate between these debates, either regarding scientific validity or historical coherence; nor do I return to the well-studied issue of the organism-mechanism tension in biology. Recent scholarship has begun to discuss the emergence and transformation of the organism concept, but has not emphasized the way the latter is a shifting, ‘go-between’ concept – invoked as ‘natural’ by some thinkers to justify their metaphysics, but then presented as value-laden by others, over and against the natural world. The organism as go-between concept is also a hybrid, a boundary concept or a limit case, which continues to function in different contexts – as a heuristic, an explanatory challenge, a model of order, of regulation, etc. – despite having frequently been pronounced irrelevant and reduced to molecules or genes. Yet this perpetuation is far removed from any ‘metaphysics of organism’, or organismic biology.
Keywords organism
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2014.06.006
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References found in this work BETA

Philosophy of Biology.Elliott Sober - 2000 - Westview Press.
Extended Life.Ezequiel A. Di Paolo - 2008 - Topoi 28 (1):9-21.
Organisational Closure in Biological Organisms.Matteo Mossio & Alvaro Moreno - 2010 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences.

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Citations of this work BETA

The Organism as Reality or as Fiction: Buffon and Beyond.Boris Demarest & Charles T. Wolfe - 2016 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 39 (1):3.
Models of Organic Organization in Montpellier Vitalism.Charles T. Wolfe - 2017 - Early Science and Medicine 22 (2-3):229-252.

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