Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 30, Issue 3, pp 333–357 | Cite as

Multicellular agency: an organizational view

  • Argyris Arnellos
  • Alvaro Moreno


We argue that the transition from unicellular to multicellular (MC) systems raises important conceptual challenges for understanding agency. We compare several MC systems (from bacterial swarms to colonies and plants, and to lower metazoans) displaying different forms of collective behavior, and we analyze whether these actions can be considered organismically integrated and attributable to the whole. We distinguish between a ‘constitutive’ and an ‘interactive’ dimension of organizational complexity, and we argue that MC agency requires a radical entanglement between the related processes which we call “the constitutive-interactive closure principle”. We explain in detail that this is not possible without a regulatory center functionally integrating the two dimensions, and we also argue that, in turn, this type of regulation would not be possible without a special type of organization between the cells required for the development and maintenance of systems capable of integrated behavior.


Agency Organization Constitutive and interactive dimension Multicellularity Regulatory center Behavior Development Epithelium Closure 



We would like to thank Leonardo Bich and Werner Callebaut for reading earlier versions of the paper and making useful comments and suggestions. A.A. would like to thank the fellows and participants of the KLI Colloquia for their vivid discussion. A.M. acknowledges the grants of the Basque Government IT 590-13 and of the Spanish Ministerio de Industria e Innovación FFI2011-25665 and BFU2012-39816-C02-02. Finally, we would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for useful suggestions that contributed to the improvement of the manuscript.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The KLI InstituteKlosterneuburgAustria
  2. 2.IAS-Research Centre for Life, Mind and Society, Department of Logic and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of the Basque CountryDonostia, San SebastiánSpain

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