Is defining life pointless? Operational definitions at the frontiers of biology

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Is defining life pointless? Operational definitions at the frontiers of biology. / Bich, Leonardo; Green, Sara.

In: Synthese, Vol. 195, No. 9, 15.09.2018, p. 3919–3946.

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

Harvard

Bich, L & Green, S 2018, 'Is defining life pointless? Operational definitions at the frontiers of biology', Synthese, vol. 195, no. 9, pp. 3919–3946. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-017-1397-9

APA

Bich, L., & Green, S. (2018). Is defining life pointless? Operational definitions at the frontiers of biology. Synthese, 195(9), 3919–3946. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-017-1397-9

Vancouver

Bich L, Green S. Is defining life pointless? Operational definitions at the frontiers of biology. Synthese. 2018 Sep 15;195(9):3919–3946. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-017-1397-9

Author

Bich, Leonardo ; Green, Sara. / Is defining life pointless? Operational definitions at the frontiers of biology. In: Synthese. 2018 ; Vol. 195, No. 9. pp. 3919–3946.

Bibtex

@article{3a84eb912e8e4b1fa3f6f7d30320ac2a,
title = "Is defining life pointless?: Operational definitions at the frontiers of biology",
abstract = "Despite numerous and increasing attempts to defin ewhat life is,there is no consensus on necessary and sufficient conditions for life. Accordingly, some schol- ars have questioned the value of definitions of life and encouraged scientists and philosophers alike to discard the project. As an alternative to this pessimistic conclu- sion, we argue that critically rethinking the nature and uses of definitions can provide new insights into the epistemic roles of definitions of life for different research prac- tices. This paper examines the possible contributions of definitions of life in scientific domains where such definitions are used most (e.g., Synthetic Biology, Origins of Life, Alife, and Astrobiology). Rather than as classificatory tools for demarcation of nat- ural kinds, we highlight the pragmatic utility of what we call operational definitions that serve as theoretical and epistemic tools in scientific practice. In particular, we examine contexts where definitions integrate criteria for life into theoretical models that involve or enable observable operations. We show how these definitions of life play important roles in influencing research agendas and evaluating results, and we argue that to discard the project of defining life is neither sufficiently motivated, nor possible without dismissing important theoretical and practical research.",
keywords = "Artificial life, Astrobiology, Definitions of life, Integration, Origins of life, Philosophy of science in practice, Synthetic biology",
author = "Leonardo Bich and Sara Green",
year = "2018",
month = "9",
day = "15",
doi = "10.1007/s11229-017-1397-9",
language = "English",
volume = "195",
pages = "3919–3946",
journal = "Synthese",
issn = "0039-7857",
publisher = "Springer",
number = "9",

}

RIS

TY - JOUR

T1 - Is defining life pointless?

T2 - Operational definitions at the frontiers of biology

AU - Bich, Leonardo

AU - Green, Sara

PY - 2018/9/15

Y1 - 2018/9/15

N2 - Despite numerous and increasing attempts to defin ewhat life is,there is no consensus on necessary and sufficient conditions for life. Accordingly, some schol- ars have questioned the value of definitions of life and encouraged scientists and philosophers alike to discard the project. As an alternative to this pessimistic conclu- sion, we argue that critically rethinking the nature and uses of definitions can provide new insights into the epistemic roles of definitions of life for different research prac- tices. This paper examines the possible contributions of definitions of life in scientific domains where such definitions are used most (e.g., Synthetic Biology, Origins of Life, Alife, and Astrobiology). Rather than as classificatory tools for demarcation of nat- ural kinds, we highlight the pragmatic utility of what we call operational definitions that serve as theoretical and epistemic tools in scientific practice. In particular, we examine contexts where definitions integrate criteria for life into theoretical models that involve or enable observable operations. We show how these definitions of life play important roles in influencing research agendas and evaluating results, and we argue that to discard the project of defining life is neither sufficiently motivated, nor possible without dismissing important theoretical and practical research.

AB - Despite numerous and increasing attempts to defin ewhat life is,there is no consensus on necessary and sufficient conditions for life. Accordingly, some schol- ars have questioned the value of definitions of life and encouraged scientists and philosophers alike to discard the project. As an alternative to this pessimistic conclu- sion, we argue that critically rethinking the nature and uses of definitions can provide new insights into the epistemic roles of definitions of life for different research prac- tices. This paper examines the possible contributions of definitions of life in scientific domains where such definitions are used most (e.g., Synthetic Biology, Origins of Life, Alife, and Astrobiology). Rather than as classificatory tools for demarcation of nat- ural kinds, we highlight the pragmatic utility of what we call operational definitions that serve as theoretical and epistemic tools in scientific practice. In particular, we examine contexts where definitions integrate criteria for life into theoretical models that involve or enable observable operations. We show how these definitions of life play important roles in influencing research agendas and evaluating results, and we argue that to discard the project of defining life is neither sufficiently motivated, nor possible without dismissing important theoretical and practical research.

KW - Artificial life

KW - Astrobiology

KW - Definitions of life

KW - Integration

KW - Origins of life

KW - Philosophy of science in practice

KW - Synthetic biology

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=85017625543&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1007/s11229-017-1397-9

DO - 10.1007/s11229-017-1397-9

M3 - Journal article

VL - 195

SP - 3919

EP - 3946

JO - Synthese

JF - Synthese

SN - 0039-7857

IS - 9

ER -

ID: 174626230