Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 331-349

First online:

Biological individuality: the case of biofilms

  • Marc EreshefskyAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Calgary Email author 
  • , Makmiller PedrosoAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Calgary

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This paper examines David Hull’s and Peter Godfrey-Smith’s accounts of biological individuality using the case of biofilms. Biofilms fail standard criteria for individuality, such as having reproductive bottlenecks and forming parent-offspring lineages. Nevertheless, biofilms are good candidates for individuals. The nature of biofilms shows that Godfrey-Smith’s account of individuality, with its reliance on reproduction, is too restrictive. Hull’s interactor notion of individuality better captures biofilms, and we argue that it offers a better account of biological individuality. However, Hull’s notion of interactor needs more precision. We suggest some ways to make Hull’s notion of interactor and his account of individuality more precise. Generally, we maintain that biofilms are a good test case for theories of individuality, and a careful examination of biofilms furthers our understanding of biological individuality.


Biofilms Biological individuality Individuals Interactors Reproduction