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What is an organism?

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Lauren Kassell.

Although philosophers of biology have spent considerable effort problematizing such key biological concepts as the gene and the species, they have generally treated the organism as fairly unproblematic. This talk aims to end this complacency. Recent work on symbiosis, especially with regard to the typical functioning of microbes in multispecies communities (biofilms) and in mutualistic relation with the more charismatic eukaryotes that have always attracted more than their fair share of attention, suggests that the lines we draw round cooperating groups of cells to demarcate organisms are, if not arbitrary, at least underdetermined. What we call an organism is a cooperative aggregation of diverse lineages, but there is no unequivocal criterion for which of these are part of the whole. Or so I shall argue.

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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