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Samir Okasha (Bristol): “On the very idea of biological individuality”
25 February 2020, 12:00 pm – 1:30 pm
Abstract: There has been extensive discussion, in both the philosophical and scientific literature, of “the problem of biological individuality”. The problem arises because there exist many biological entities whose status as “individuals” is disputed, since they lack some of the attributes of paradigmatic biological individuals such as multi-celled animals. I argue that the literature on biological individuality, though it addresses genuine issues, is conceptually confused. Symptomatic of the confusion is the fact that terms such as “individual”, “object”, “identity” and “individuate” are used rather loosely in this literature, often without regard to their technical philosophical meanings. I offer a diagnosis of the source of the confusion. I argue that those involved in the debate over biological individuality treat the expression “biological individual” as if it were a sortal, when in fact it is not. This diagnosis sheds light on various aspects of the debate. And it shows by example that the methods of traditional analytic philosophy can play a useful role, albeit a modest clarificatory one, in the philosophy of biology, despite what has often been thought.
Samir Okasha is Professor of Philosophy of Science at the University of Bristol. He has broad philosophical interests, though most of his research falls into two main areas: (i) philosophy of biology / evolutionary theory; and (ii) epistemology /philosophy of science.