Biological Theory

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 11–24 | Cite as

Biological Autonomy: Can a Universal and Gradable Conception be Operationalized?

Bernd Rosslenbroich: On the Origin of Autonomy: A New Look at the Major Transitions in Evolution (History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences 5); Springer, Cham, 2014, xii + 297 pp, $129 hbk, ISBN 978-3-319-04140-7
  • Argyris ArnellosEmail author
Essay Review


In On the Origin of Autonomy; A New look at the Major Transitions in Evolution, Bernd Rosslenbroich argues that an increase of the relative autonomy of individual organisms is one of the central large-scale patterns in evolution. I begin by presenting how Rosslenbroich understands the notion of autonomy in biology and how he correlates its increase to different sets of morphological, physiological, and behavioral characteristics of various biological systems. I briefly discuss his view of directionality in evolution with respect to its ontological and epistemological status. Then, I discuss the advantages of his thesis, and especially the emphasis on the organism as the subject rather than the object of evolution. I argue in detail that his account could benefit from a more exact conception of autonomy, and I discuss six problems related to the operationalization of his concept as applied to various theoretical issues.


Adaptation Autonomy Biological individual Evolutionary transition Organisms Physiology Self-determination 


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition ResearchKlosterneuburgAustria

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