Synthese

, Volume 185, Issue 1, pp 103–124 | Cite as

The dialectic of life

Article

Abstract

In the dialectic of debates about the extension of life, one witnesses a predictably repeating pattern: one side appeals to a motley of variegated criteria for something’s qualifying as a living system, only to find an opposite side taking issue with the individual necessity or collective sufficiency of the proposed criteria. Some of these criteria tend to cluster with one another, while others do not: metabolism, growth and reproduction; self-organization and homeostasis; an ability to decrease internal entropy by the appropriation of free energy; stimulus response suited to self-preservation and propagation; and adaptation. In competing approaches to the extension of life, these sundry criteria thus jockey for authority, with one group of theorists promoting some subset of them as essential for life, where the appeal to essence is as likely as not to be a simple modal sine qua non, and another denying that the nominated criteria are really necessary at all. The debate then stalls, because there seems to be no shared methodology for adjudicating such disputes. We may address this unhappy situation successfully by coming to appreciate that life is what we may call a core-dependent homonym.

Keywords

Life Univocity Core-dependent homonymy Family resemblance 

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Bedau M. (1992) Where’s the good in teleology?. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 52: 781–896CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bedau M. (1998) Four puzzles about life. Artificial Life 4: 125–140CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Block N. (1997) On a confusion about a function of consciousness. In: Block N., Flanagan O., Guzeldere G. (eds) The nature of consciousness. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  4. Cleland C., Chyba C. (2002) Defining ‘life’. Origins of Life and Evolution of the Biosphere 32: 387–393CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Cummins R. (1975) Functional analysis. Journal of Philosophy 72: 741–765CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dennett D. (1987) True believers. In: Dennett D. (Ed.) The intentional stance. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  7. Enç B. (1979) Function attributions and functional explanations. Philosophy of Science 1979: 343–365CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fine K. (1994) Essence and modality. Nous Supplement 8: 1–16Google Scholar
  9. Fodor J. (1986) Why paramecia don’t have mental representations. In: French P., Uehling T., Wettstein J. H. (eds) Midwest studies in philosophy, Vol X. University of Minnesota Press, MinnesotaGoogle Scholar
  10. Godfrey-Smith P. (1993) Functions: Consensus without unity. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 74: 196–208Google Scholar
  11. Hawthorne J. P., Nolan D. (2006) What would teleological causation be?. In: Hawthorne J. P. (Ed.) Metaphysical essays. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 265–283CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hiplinen, R. (2004). Artefacts. Retrieved July 9, 2009, from http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/artefact/.
  13. Kim J. (1978) Supervenience and nomological incommensurables. American Philosophical Quarterly 15: 149–156Google Scholar
  14. Lovelock J.E. (1990) Hands up for the Gaia Hypothesis. Nature 8: 100–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lovelock J. E. (2000) Gaia: A new look at life on Earth. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  16. Lovelock J. E., Margulis L. (1974) Atmospheric homeostasis by and for the biosphere: The Gaia hypothesis. Tellus 26: 2–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Matthews G. (1977) Consciousness and life. Philosophy 52: 13–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Neander K. M. (1991) The teleological notion of “function”. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 69: 454–468CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Putnam H. (1964) Robots: Machines or artifically created life?. Journal of Philosophy 61: 668–691CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Putnam, H. (1975). The meaning of ‘meaning’. In K. Gunderson (Ed.), Language, mind and knowledge: Minnesota studies in the philosophy of science (pp. 131–193). University of Minnesota Press. Reprinted in H. Putnam, Mind, language and reality (pp. 215–271). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).Google Scholar
  21. Rosenthal D. (1986) Two concepts of consciousness. Philosophical Studies 49: 329–359CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Schrödinger E. (1945) What is life?. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  23. Shields C. (1999) Order in multiplicity: Homonymy in the philosophy of Aristotle. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  24. Sluga H. (2006) Family resemblance. In: Kober M. (Ed.) Deepening our understanding of Wittgenstein: Grazer Philosophische Studien. Editions Rodopi B.V, Netherlands, pp 1–21Google Scholar
  25. Van Inwagen P. (1990) Material beings. Cornell University Press, IthacaGoogle Scholar
  26. Wright L. (1973) Functions. Philosophical Review 82: 139–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Wright L. (1976) Teleological explanations. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  28. Ziff P. (1960) Semantic analysis. Cornell University Press, IthacaGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of OxfordOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations