Biology & Philosophy

, 33:32 | Cite as

De-extinction and the conception of species

  • Leonard FinkelmanEmail author


Developments in genetic engineering may soon allow biologists to clone organisms from extinct species. The process, dubbed “de-extinction,” has been publicized as a means to bring extinct species back to life. For theorists and philosophers of biology, the process also suggests a thought experiment for the ongoing “species problem”: given a species concept, would a clone be classified in the extinct species? Previous analyses have answered this question in the context of specific de-extinction technologies or particular species concepts. The thought experiment is given more comprehensive treatment here. Given the products of three de-extinction technologies, twenty-two species concepts are “tested” to see which are consistent with the idea that species may be resurrected. The ensuing discussion considers whether or not de-extinction is a conceptually coherent research program and, if so, whether or not its development may contribute to a resolution of the species problem. Ultimately, theorists must face a choice: they may revise their commitments to species concepts (if those concepts are inconsistent with de-extinction) or they may recognize de-extinction as a means to make progress in the species problem.


Species Species concepts Species problem Extinction De-extinction Resurrection biology Cloning Genetic engineering Evolution Philosophy Philosophy of biology Mammoth 



The author would like to thank Massimo Pigliucci, Marc Ereshefsky, and Helena Siipi for their guidance, support, and feedback. Discussion with and commentary from Derek Skillings, P.D. Magnus, Matt Haber, Derek Turner, Adrian Currie, and Joyce Havstad were also invaluable towards the completion of this work. Additional, input from Michael Bell, Alberto Cordero, Jessie Prinz, Peter Godfrey-Smith, and Markku Oksanen proved instrumental in clarifying the author’s thoughts. This work would not have been possible without the support of Jesus Ilundain, Kaarina Beam, and the administration of Linfield College. Finally, the author would like to thank the reviewers of this essay for valuable comments that have improved this work immensely.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Linfield CollegeMcMinnvilleUSA

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