Chapter

What Is an Organism? Immunity and the Individuality of the Organism

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/9780199775286.003.0007
What Is an Organism? Immunity and the Individuality of the Organism

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This chapter raises a traditional philosophical question, that of the definition of the identity of a living thing, and asks whether immunology can shed light on it. The notion of biological identity has in fact two main aspects: uniqueness and individuality. The crucial and specific contribution of immunology concerns biological individuality, because the immune system offers a principle of inclusion, and therefore is critical in delineating the boundaries of the organism at a truly systemic level. Thus, contrary to what many philosophers of biology have long said, a field pertaining to physiology, namely immunology, can offer a theoretical framework to understand biological individuality. I suggest a new definition of the organism as a heterogeneous reality, made of genetically diverse constituents, the unity of which is ensured by the permanent action of the immune system. Finally, I articulate my conception of the immunological individual with current conceptions of evolutionary individuals.

Keywords: organism; individual; identity; uniqueness; genidentity; physiology; unit of selection; symbiosis; colonial organism; superorganism; heterogeneity

Chapter.  14353 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science

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