This paper provides a conceptual framework to accommodate important recent developments in immunology (genetic determination, cellular interactions, suppression). The basic idea is to look at the immune system as a closed network of interactions which self-determines its ongoing pattern of stability and its capacities of interaction with its environment. Thus, all immune events are understood as a form of self-recognition, and whatever falls outside this domain, shaped by genetics and ontogeny, is simply non-sensical. This paradigm, stemming from the ideas of Jerne, represents almost a logical inversion of the Burnetian idea of self-discrimination. A detailed discussion of the immunological evidence that substantiates this view is presented, together with some new concepts (eigenbehavior, cognitive domains). Although the paper is addressed to biologists and immunologists, we make extensive use of system-theoretic notions in a non-mathematical form (recursion, nets and trees, self-organization).