Chapter

The Self-Nonself Theory

Thomas Pradeu and Elizabeth Vitanza

in The Limits of the Self

Published in print February 2012 | ISBN: 9780199775286
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199932818 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199775286.003.0003
The Self-Nonself Theory

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This chapter aims at clarifying the notions of self and nonself through a historical analysis. I show that the relationship between immunity and the identity of the organism, as well as the idea that an immune response is due to the penetration in the organism of foreign bodies, both preexist Burnet’s self-nonself framework. The crucial step accomplished by Burnet is that he transformed these apparently self-evident observations in a scientific problem, asking how the organism learns to not attack its own constituents. Explaining the tolerance to the self is thus the starting point of the self-nonself theory. Thanks to a detailed analysis of Burnet’s scientific writings, I demonstrate the link between the self-nonself framework and Burnet’s famous clonal selection theory. I make clear how the very conception of the self changed significantly throughout Burnet’s scientific reflection. Finally, I show that the self-nonself theory is still dominant in today’s immunology.

Keywords: self; transplantation; tolerance; phagocytic theory; horror autotoxicus; clonal selection theory; histocompatibility; burnet; metchnikoff; ehrlich; medawar

Chapter.  10944 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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