Why I stopped worrying about the definition of life... and why you should as well

Abstract

In several disciplines within science—evolutionary biology, molecular biology, astrobiology, synthetic biology, artificial life—and outside science—primarily ethics—efforts to define life have recently multiplied. However, no consensus has emerged. In this article, I argue that this is no accident. I propose a dilemma showing that the project of defining life is either impossible or pointless. The notion of life at stake in this project is either the folk concept of life or a scientific concept. In the former case, empirical evidence shows that life cannot be defined. In the latter case, I argue that, although defining life may be possible, it is pointless. I conclude that scientists, philosophers, and ethicists should discard the project of defining life.

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Correspondence to Edouard Machery.

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Machery, E. Why I stopped worrying about the definition of life... and why you should as well. Synthese 185, 145–164 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-011-9880-1

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Keywords

  • Life
  • Concept
  • Definition
  • Astrobiology
  • Synthetic biology
  • Alife
  • Molecular biology
  • Evolutionary biology
  • Concepts