Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 28, Issue 2, pp 331–349 | Cite as

Biological individuality: the case of biofilms

  • Marc Ereshefsky
  • Makmiller Pedroso


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 



We thank Matt Haber, Maureen O’Malley, Peter Godfrey-Smith, and three referees for this journal for their helpful suggestions. Thanks to Ford Doolittle and Conor Meehan for helping us learn about biofilms and microbial consortia. We also thank the participants at the Individuals Across the Sciences conference (Paris 2012) for their feedback and stimulating discussion. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada provided financial support for this research.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of CalgaryCalgaryCanada

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