The organism as reality or as fiction: Buffon and beyond

History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 39 (1):3 (2016)
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In this paper, we reflect on the connection between the notions of organism and organisation, with a specific interest in how this bears upon the issue of the reality of the organism. We do this by presenting the case of Buffon, who developed complex views about the relation between the notions of “organised” and “organic” matter. We argue that, contrary to what some interpreters have suggested, these notions are not orthogonal in his thought. Also, we argue that Buffon has a view in which organisation is not just ubiquitous, but basic and fundamental in nature, and hence also fully natural. We suggest that he can hold this view because of his anti-mathematicism. Buffon’s case is interesting, in our view, because he can regard organisation, and organisms, as perfectly natural, and can admit their reality without invoking problematic supernaturalist views, and because he allows organisation and the organismal to come in kinds and degrees. Thus, his view tries to do justice to two cautionary notes for the debate on the reality of the organism: the need for a commitment to a broadly naturalist perspective, and the need to acknowledge the interesting features of organisms through which we make sense of them.



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Author Profiles

Boris Demarest
University of Amsterdam
Charles T. Wolfe
Université de Toulouse Jean-Jaurès

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