The Concept of ‘the Organism’ in the Philosophy of Biology

Di Catherine Wilson

In: The Notion of Organism. Historical and Conceptual Approaches XLIII , No. 1-4 ( 2014 )

Sezione Saggi / Articles


The notions of ‘selfhood’, self-preservation, and the integration of the self have a central role to play in moral and political philosophy as well as in the philosophy of mind. Biologically, however, the notion of the living individual–the organism– is problematic. Although we have no difficulty in picking out, or picking up, or counting individual rosebushes or kittens, it is difficult to determine where the boundaries of such living things lie and what belongs to them. The essay discusses the apparent conflict between commonsense and biology, whilst taking account of both Richard Dawkins’s ‘gene-centered’ perspective and the claims of philosophers who maintain that ‘the organism’ is an indispensable concept in the life sciences.