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The organism as ontological go-between: hybridity, boundaries and degrees of reality in its conceptual history.
Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. 2014 Dec; 48 Pt B:151-61.SH

Abstract

The organism is neither a discovery like the circulation of the blood or the glycogenic function of the liver, nor a particular biological theory like epigenesis or preformationism. It is rather a concept which plays a series of roles--sometimes overt, sometimes masked--throughout the history of biology, and frequently in very normative ways, also shifting between the biological and the social. Indeed, it has often been presented as a key-concept in life science and the 'theorization' of Life, but conversely has also been the target of influential rejections: as just an instrument of transmission for the selfish gene, but also, historiographically, as part of an outdated 'vitalism'. Indeed, the organism, perhaps because it is experientially closer to the 'body' than to the 'molecule', is often the object of quasi-affective theoretical investments presenting it as essential, sometimes even as the pivot of a science or a particular approach to nature, while other approaches reject or attack it with equal force, assimilating it to a mysterious 'vitalist' ontology of extra-causal forces, or other pseudo-scientific doctrines. This paper does not seek to adjudicate between these debates, either in terms of scientific validity or historical coherence; nor does it return to the well-studied issue of the organism-mechanism tension in biology. Recent scholarship has begun to focus on the emergence and transformation of the concept of organism, but has not emphasized so much the way in which organism is a shifting, 'go-between' concept-invoked as 'natural' by some thinkers to justify their metaphysics, but then presented as value-laden by others, over and against the natural world. The organism as go-between concept is also a hybrid, a boundary concept or an epistemic limit case, all of which partly overlap with the idea of 'nomadic concepts'. Thereby the concept of organism continues to function in different contexts--as a heuristic, an explanatory challenge, a model of order, of regulation, etc.--despite having frequently been pronounced irrelevant and reduced to molecules or genes. Yet this perpetuation is far removed from any 'metaphysics of organism', or organismic biology.

Authors+Show Affiliations

Department of Philosophy and Moral Sciences, Sarton Centre for History of Science, Ghent University, Blandijnberg 2, B-9000 Ghent, Belgium. Electronic address: charles.wolfe@ugent.be.

Pub Type(s)

Historical Article
Journal Article

Language

eng

PubMed ID

25081834

Citation

Wolfe, Charles T.. "The Organism as Ontological Go-between: Hybridity, Boundaries and Degrees of Reality in Its Conceptual History." Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, vol. 48 Pt B, 2014, pp. 151-61.
Wolfe CT. The organism as ontological go-between: hybridity, boundaries and degrees of reality in its conceptual history. Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. 2014;48 Pt B:151-61.
Wolfe, C. T. (2014). The organism as ontological go-between: hybridity, boundaries and degrees of reality in its conceptual history. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 48 Pt B, 151-61. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsc.2014.06.006
Wolfe CT. The Organism as Ontological Go-between: Hybridity, Boundaries and Degrees of Reality in Its Conceptual History. Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci. 2014;48 Pt B:151-61. PubMed PMID: 25081834.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - JOUR T1 - The organism as ontological go-between: hybridity, boundaries and degrees of reality in its conceptual history. A1 - Wolfe,Charles T, Y1 - 2014/07/28/ PY - 2014/05/15/received PY - 2014/06/20/accepted PY - 2014/8/2/entrez PY - 2014/8/2/pubmed PY - 2015/7/21/medline KW - As go-between KW - Mechanism KW - Organicism KW - Organism KW - Vitalism SP - 151 EP - 61 JF - Studies in history and philosophy of biological and biomedical sciences JO - Stud Hist Philos Biol Biomed Sci VL - 48 Pt B N2 - The organism is neither a discovery like the circulation of the blood or the glycogenic function of the liver, nor a particular biological theory like epigenesis or preformationism. It is rather a concept which plays a series of roles--sometimes overt, sometimes masked--throughout the history of biology, and frequently in very normative ways, also shifting between the biological and the social. Indeed, it has often been presented as a key-concept in life science and the 'theorization' of Life, but conversely has also been the target of influential rejections: as just an instrument of transmission for the selfish gene, but also, historiographically, as part of an outdated 'vitalism'. Indeed, the organism, perhaps because it is experientially closer to the 'body' than to the 'molecule', is often the object of quasi-affective theoretical investments presenting it as essential, sometimes even as the pivot of a science or a particular approach to nature, while other approaches reject or attack it with equal force, assimilating it to a mysterious 'vitalist' ontology of extra-causal forces, or other pseudo-scientific doctrines. This paper does not seek to adjudicate between these debates, either in terms of scientific validity or historical coherence; nor does it return to the well-studied issue of the organism-mechanism tension in biology. Recent scholarship has begun to focus on the emergence and transformation of the concept of organism, but has not emphasized so much the way in which organism is a shifting, 'go-between' concept-invoked as 'natural' by some thinkers to justify their metaphysics, but then presented as value-laden by others, over and against the natural world. The organism as go-between concept is also a hybrid, a boundary concept or an epistemic limit case, all of which partly overlap with the idea of 'nomadic concepts'. Thereby the concept of organism continues to function in different contexts--as a heuristic, an explanatory challenge, a model of order, of regulation, etc.--despite having frequently been pronounced irrelevant and reduced to molecules or genes. Yet this perpetuation is far removed from any 'metaphysics of organism', or organismic biology. SN - 1879-2499 UR - https://www.unboundmedicine.com/medline/citation/25081834/The_organism_as_ontological_go_between:_hybridity_boundaries_and_degrees_of_reality_in_its_conceptual_history_ L2 - https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1369-8486(14)00080-6 DB - PRIME DP - Unbound Medicine ER -