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The Evolutionary Origins of Life and Death$
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Pierre M. Durand

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226747620

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226747934.001.0001

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Philosophical Considerations and the Origin of Death

Philosophical Considerations and the Origin of Death

(p.73) 8 Philosophical Considerations and the Origin of Death
The Evolutionary Origins of Life and Death

Pierre M. Durand

University of Chicago Press

Death is usually contrasted with life, but without a satisfactory definition for life there is also no clear definition of death. In this chapter life and death criteria are contrasted and compared. It deals with the early philosophy of death and the specific notion of programmed cell death (PCD). The history and philosophy of cell death are traced and the difference between PCD and aging is highlighted. PCD evolved in single-celled organisms long before multicellular life existed. In multicellular organisms, PCD is essential for homeostasis, development and protection against cancers, but the reasons for the emergence of a genetic program that actively kills the unicellular host are perplexing. This has led to a paradigm shift (à la Thomas Khun) in our understanding of the phenomenon of PCD. The nature and meaning of PCD, the problems associated with the terminology used, and the philosophical interpretations of ‘program’ and ‘death’ are covered. The current concepts and evolutionary definitions of PCD (incidental death, ersatz PCD and true PCD) are discussed. These are provided for use in the later chapters that deal with the question of whether PCD as an adaptation or a mal-adaptive phenomenon.

Keywords:   programmed cell death, incidental death, ersatz PCD, aging, paradigm shift

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