Publication 5969

Winning J. & Bechtel W. (2016) Review of: Biological Autonomy, by Alvaro Moreno and Matteo Mossio. Philosophy of Science 83: 446–452. Fulltext at
Excerpt: In Biological Autonomy, philosophers Alvaro Moreno and Matteo Mossio present a new theoretical framework for understanding how living organisms differ from other physical systems. Their framework, which they call the “autonomous perspective,” addresses biological organisms qua systems. They show how it generates insights into a wide range of questions in philosophy of biology such as, Does causation operate top down? What are functions? Which is more fundamental for the origin of life – metabo-lism or replication? What distinguishes cognition as a kind of biological process? Moreno and Mossio’s systems-oriented approach, with its holistic focus on the organizational features of biological systems (including the entire spectrum from bacteria to large multicellular organisms), is a welcome and refreshing departure from the contemporary plethora of mechanistic approaches that emphasize reductive accounts of biological systems as decomposable into hierarchies of parts and operations. The autonomous perspective also provides insights into why mechanistic explanation must be supplemented with other explanatory approaches. In this review, we briefly sketch some of the core ideas of the framework and how the authors apply it to two central problems in philosophy of biology: the nature of functions in biology and how to understand cognition in biological systems in general.

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