Book

The Limits of the Self

Thomas Pradeu

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199775286
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932818 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199775286.001.0001
The Limits of the Self

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What counts as an individual in the living world? What does it mean for a living thing to remain the same through time while constantly changing? Immunology, one of the most dynamic fields of today’s biology, considers these questions its province, and answers them through its crucial concepts of “self” and “nonself.” Though immunology has been dominated since the 1940s by the self-nonself theory, this book argues that this theory is inadequate, because immune responses to self constituents and immune tolerance of foreign entities are the rule, not the exception. An alternative theory, the continuity theory, is advanced instead. This theory offers a new way to answer the question of what triggers an immune response. It also echoes the recent realization that all organisms, and not higher vertebrates only, have an immune system. This book’s main thesis is that the self-nonself theory should be abandoned, but that immunology still proves to be decisive for delineating the boundaries of the organism. Articulating an evolutionary and an immunological perspective, it offers an original conception of the organism. Tolerance of the fetus by the mother and of countless bacteria on the body’s surfaces proves that every organism is heterogeneous, that is, made of entities of different origins. In other words, every organism appears as a chimera, a mixed living thing the cohesiveness of which is ensured by the constant action of its immune system. The Limits of the Self will be essential reading for anyone interested in the definition of biological individuality and the understanding of the immune system.

Keywords: individual; identity; self; organism; immunology; immune system; philosophy of immunology; philosophy of biology

Book.  320 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION in The Limits of the Self

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Immunology, Self and Nonself in The Limits of the Self

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The Self-Nonself Theory in The Limits of the Self

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The Continuity Theory in The Limits of the Self

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CONCLUSION in The Limits of the Self

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