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The Work of Biological Individuality: Concepts and Contexts

The Work of Biological Individuality: Concepts and Contexts

(p.17) 1 The Work of Biological Individuality: Concepts and Contexts
Biological Individuality
Scott LidgardLynn K. Nyhart
University of Chicago Press

Why are there so many concepts of biological individuality? This chapter shows that a wide range of definitional criteria of individuality has been integral to biological studies for at least 170 years. Using the notion of a dynamic problem space to explore biological, historical, and philosophical aspects of biological individuality, we argue that the work of biological individuality concepts must be understood contextually. These concepts are contextualized by specific research problems, biological systems, and epistemic goals; by different disciplinary norms; and by change over time. Concepts also address different categories of problems involving individuation, hierarchies or levels, temporal continuity or change, and what does or does not constitute an individual. To move our understanding of biological individuality forward productively, we recast it as a broad, stable, and growing domain of problems that each merit investigation in its own right, for which no single definition of individuality will suffice.

Keywords:   individuation, levels of individuality, biological hierarchy, biological systems, organism, symbiosis, holobiont, epistemology, problem space, pluralism

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