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Definitely Life but not Definitively


Although there have been attempts at a definition of life from many disciplines, none is accepted by all as definitive. Some people believe that it is impossible to define ‘life’ adequately at the moment. We agree with this point of view on linguistic grounds, examining the different types of definition, the contexts in which they are used and their relative usefulness as aids to arriving at a scientific definition of life. We look at some of the more recent definitions and analyse them in the light of our criteria for a good definition. We argue that since there are so many linguistic and philosophical difficulties with such a definition of life, what is needed is a series of working descriptions, which are suited to the audience and context in which they are used and useful for the intended purpose. We provide some ideas and examples of the forms these may take.

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Correspondence to Joan D. Oliver.

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Oliver, J.D., Perry, R.S. Definitely Life but not Definitively. Orig Life Evol Biosph 36, 515–521 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11084-006-9035-4

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  • definition of life
  • definitions
  • living systems
  • living entities
  • working descriptions
  • what is life
  • origin of life
  • life
  • lexicology
  • astrobiology
  • science definitions