Following the revival in the last decades of the concept of “organism”, scholarly literature in philosophy of science has shown growing historical interest in the theory of Immanuel Kant, one of the “fathers” of the concept of self-organisation. Yet some recent theoretical developments suggest that self-organisation alone cannot fully account for the all-important dimension of autonomy of the living. Autonomy appears to also have a genuine “interactive” dimension, which concerns the organism’s functional interactions with the environment and does not simply derive from its internal organisation. Against this background, we focus on a family of natural philosophical approaches that historically have already strongly taken in account this aspect of autonomy, notably going beyond Kant’s perspective on self-organisation. We thus review Hegel, Plessner, and Jonas’ different perspectives on living beings, focussing in particular on four points: the distinction between organic and inorganic, the theory of biological organisation, the processuality of the living, and the “boundary” between inside and outside, through which the organism establishes its relationship to the environment. We, then, compare the three perspectives on these four points, and finally address the question of what advantages their contribution present—especially compared to Kant’s theory—with respect to the topic of organism’s autonomy. This could help—we hope—to better understand what is at the stake still today.
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If not otherwise noted, all translations from this text are our own.
Things that cross boundaries are not identical to things that have a “restriction” (Schranke) in Hegel’s sense of the term, since in Plessner’s view plants are also things that cross boundaries—without however possessing a feeling of their own restrictedness.
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Sections 1, 4, 6 have been drafted by Francesca Michelini; sections 3 and 5 by Matthias Wunsch; section 2 by Dirk Stederoth. This paper was written in the context of the International Biophilosophical School (University of Padua, 27–30 April 2015) as part of the “Integrative Biophilosophy” research project located at the University of Kassel. Funding by the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) is gratefully acknowledged. Many thanks to Tessa Marzotto for the linguistic revisions.
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Michelini, F., Wunsch, M. & Stederoth, D. Philosophy of nature and organism’s autonomy: on Hegel, Plessner and Jonas’ theories of living beings. HPLS 40, 56 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40656-018-0212-3
- Philosophy of nature
- Organic–inorganic relationship
- Biological autonomy