Scott Lidgard and Lynn K. Nyhart, eds. Biological Individuality: Integrating Scientific, Philosophical, and Historical Perspectives [Book Review]


Biologists, historians of biology, and philosophers of biology often ask what is it to be an individual, really. This book does not answer that question. Instead, it answers a much more interesting one: How do biologists individuate individuals? In answering that question, the authors explore why biologists individuate individuals, in what ways, and for what purposes. The cross-disciplinary, dialogical approach to answering metaphysical questions that is pursued in the volume may seem strange to metaphysicians who are not biologically focused, but it is adroitly achieved by the editors. Scott Lidgard (a paleontologist and marine ecologist) and Lynn K. Nyhart (a historian of biology) orchestrate a dialogue among historians of biology, philosophers of biology, and practicing biologists over 10 chapters. These are followed by three reflective commentaries written to frame the different disciplinary perspectives and to highlight the historical, biological, and philosophical themes across the chapters. The result is a volume—in structure and in content—that has much to be generously commended. Biological individuality is a hotly discussed topic, but it is also part of a series of long-standing arguments within both the history and philosophy of biology (HPB) and metaphysics. Notable and fervent debates have centered on evolution and the units of selection, predominantly on Michael T. Ghiselin’s and David L. Hull’s notion of species as individuals, Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Darwinian individuals, and Ellen Clarke’s individuating mechanisms. Lately, it has encompassed non-Darwinian individuals, symbiotic associations like Thomas Pradeu’s immunological individuals, and John Dupré and Maureen A. O’Malley’s metabolic individuals.2 The present volume is curated in a way to introduce the reader to new research in HPB that articulates these debates as well as to introduce and engage in the study of further notions of biological individuality. But its aim is more than an introduction. As the subtitle suggests, it is also intended to give the reader insight into the working together of biologists, historians of biology, and philosophers of biology in figuring out how the notion of biological individuality is instantiated. As such, the problem-centered dialogue that results does more than talk through biological individuality. It shows how the different and often divergent goals of the authors’ disciplines shape not only how they think about individuality but how they communicate this thinking in reciprocal collaboration with others in different disciplines. … cont’d….

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Catherine Elizabeth Kendig
Michigan State University

References found in this work

A Matter of Individuality.David L. Hull - 1978 - Philosophy of Science 45 (3):335-360.
The Multiple Realizability of Biological Individuals.Ellen Clarke - 2013 - Journal of Philosophy 110 (8):413-435.

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