What Is Life? And Why Is the Question Still Open?

Beisbart, Claus (2017). What Is Life? And Why Is the Question Still Open? In: Losch, Andreas (ed.) What Is Life? On Earth and Beyond (pp. 111-131). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

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The question of what life is has elicited numerous attempts to define life, none of which has achieved widespread consensus. This paper assesses the difficulties of defining life and makes a proposal how to proceed. It brings work about definition to bear on the question of what life is. Under a natural interpretation, this question asks for a descriptive definition of “life”, i.e. an account of our concept of life. The paper discusses objections that Cleland and Chyba have raised against the project of providing a descriptive definition of “life”. It is argued that a descriptive definition may contain significant insights. Nevertheless, the most fruitful method for such a definition, analysis in terms of necessary and jointly sufficient conditions, is unlikely to succeed for life. This by itself is not problematic, since other concepts escape analysis too and since there are alternative ways to obtain a descriptive definition. We nevertheless face a dilemma: Every account of life will either be unprincipled or incompatible with some ways in which we talk about life. I reject a recent attempt by Cleland and Chyba to escape this dilemma and instead propose a Carnapian explication of life for the purposes of biological research.

Item Type:

Book Section (Book Chapter)

Division/Institute:

06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute of Philosophy
06 Faculty of Humanities > Department of Art and Cultural Studies > Institute of Philosophy > Theoretical Philosophy

UniBE Contributor:

Beisbart, Claus

Subjects:

100 Philosophy
100 Philosophy > 120 Epistemology

ISBN:

978-1-316-81553-3

Publisher:

Cambridge University Press

Language:

English

Submitter:

Claus Beisbart

Date Deposited:

04 Jun 2018 08:46

Last Modified:

04 Jun 2018 08:46

URI:

https://boris.unibe.ch/id/eprint/114555

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