What Is an Organism? Immunity and the Individuality of the Organism
This chapter raises a traditional philosophical question, that of the definition of the identity of a living thing, and asks whether immunology can shed light on it. The notion of biological identity has in fact two main aspects: uniqueness and individuality. The crucial and specific contribution of immunology concerns biological individuality, because the immune system offers a principle of inclusion, and therefore is critical in delineating the boundaries of the organism at a truly systemic level. Thus, contrary to what many philosophers of biology have long said, a field pertaining to physiology, namely immunology, can offer a theoretical framework to understand biological individuality. I suggest a new definition of the organism as a heterogeneous reality, made of genetically diverse constituents, the unity of which is ensured by the permanent action of the immune system. Finally, I articulate my conception of the immunological individual with current conceptions of evolutionary individuals.
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