Publication 4793

Bechtel W. (2007) Biological mechanisms: Organized to maintain autonomy. In: Boogerd F. C., Bruggeman F. T. & Hofmeyr Ihs Westerhoff I. W. (eds.) Systems biology: Philosophical foundations. Elsevier, Amsterdam: 269–302. Fulltext at
Mechanistic explanations in biology have continually confronted the challenge that they are insufficient to account for biological phenomena. This challenge is often justified as accounts of biological mechanisms frequently fail to consider the modes of organization required to explain the phenomena of life. This, however, can be remedied by developing analyses of the modes of organization found in biological systems. In this paper I examine Tibor Gánti’s account of a chemoton, which he offers as the simplest chemical system that exhibits characteristics of life, and build from it an account of autonomous systems, characterized following Moreno as active systems that develop and maintain themselves by recruiting energy and raw materials from their environment and deploying it in building and repairing themselves. Although some theorists would construe such self-organizing and self-repairing systems as beyond the mechanistic perspective, I maintain that they can be accommodated within the framework of mechanistic explanation properly construed.




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