Reflecting on Complexity of Biological Systems: Kant and Beyond?

Authors: van de Vijver, G.; van Speybroeck, L.; Vandevyvere, W.

Source: Acta Biotheoretica, Volume 51, Number 2, 2003 , pp. 101-140(40)

Publisher: Springer

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Living organisms are currently most often seen as complex dynamical systems that develop and evolve in relation to complex environments. Reflections on the meaning of the complex dynamical nature of living systems show an overwhelming multiplicity in approaches, descriptions, definitions and methodologies. Instead of sustaining an epistemic pluralism, which often functions as a philosophical armistice in which tolerance and so-called neutrality discharge proponents of the burden to clarify the sources and conditions of agreement and disagreement, this paper aims at analysing: (i) what has been Kant's original conceptualisation of living organisms as natural purposes; (ii) how the current perspectives are to be related to Kant's viewpoint; (iii) what are the main trends in current complexity thinking. One of the basic ideas is that the attention for structure and its epistemological consequences witness to a great extent of Kant's viewpoint, and that the idea of organisational stratification today constitutes a different breeding ground within which complexity issues are raised. The various approaches of complexity in biological systems are captured in terms of two different styles, universalism and (weak and strong) constructivism, between which hybrid forms exist.

Keywords: Boundary; causality; complex dynamic system; constructivism; development; emergence; evolution; hierarchy; interaction; observer-dependency; organism; reductionism; self-organisation; structuralism; universalism

Document Type: Review Article

Affiliations: Research Unit "Evolution and Complexity", Ghent University, Department of Philosophy and Moral Science, Belgium

Publication date: January 1, 2003

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