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Proper activity, preference, and the meaning of life

Mix, Lucas J. (2014) Proper activity, preference, and the meaning of life. Philosophy and Theory in Biology, 6. pp. 1-16. ISSN 1949-0739

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Both popular and scientific definitions of life must account for the possibility of the sub-optimal operation of some function. Identifying the function in question and the criteria for optimality will be necessary steps in crafting a definition that is both intuitive and rigorous. I lay out a rule of thumb—the proper activity criterion—and a three-part typology of binary, range, and preference for understanding definitions of life. The resolution of “optimal” function within a scientific framework presents the central challenge to creating a successful definition of life. A brief history of definitions of life and explanations of biological function is presented to demonstrate the value of the typology. After analyzing three controversial cases—viruses, mules, and stars—I present three possible options for resolution: vitalism, reductionism, and instrumentalism. Only by confronting the consequences of each can we come to consensus about what is necessary and desirable from a common definition.

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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Mix, Lucas
Keywords: Astrobiology, Evolution, Life, Metabolism, Origin of Life
Depositing User: Dr. Thomas Pashby
Date Deposited: 22 Jun 2015 13:18
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2015 13:18
Item ID: 11520
Journal or Publication Title: Philosophy and Theory in Biology
Publisher: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library
Official URL:
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.3998/ptb.6959004.0006.001
Date: August 2014
Page Range: pp. 1-16
Volume: 6
ISSN: 1949-0739

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