IAS-Research Talk by Marc Bedau: “The meta-question about life”

Date and Time: October 25, Wednesday, 15:30 p.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Mark Bedau (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Bedau)

Abstract: The question how to define life is very controversial, with many answers proposed but no signs of any emerging consensus. This raises a second question, the meta-question about life: Why is the definition of life so difficult and so controversial? Various answers to the meta-question have been proposed, such as being limited to a sample size for life of only one (Sterelny, Cleland), or confusion over homonyms that share a core meaning (Shields), or our failure to recognize impossible to answer question about folk concepts and pointless questions about scientific concepts (Machery), or our mistake of human kinds for natural kinds (Keller). Most contemporary discussions of defining life and resolving its controversies seem to presuppose a Cartesian perspective on the problem, focused on whether we can identify necessary and sufficient conditions for individual living organism. This contrasts with an Aristotelian perspective on the problem, focused on finding the best explanation of the characteristic phenomena involving life, such as life’s hallmarks, its borderline cases, and its characteristic puzzles. I argue replacing the Cartesian perspective with the Aristotelian perspective provides more promise for answering the meta-question about life, and thereby eventually resolving how to define life.