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Symmetry and Causation: A General Theory of Biological Individuality

Jantzen, Benjamin C. (2018) Symmetry and Causation: A General Theory of Biological Individuality. [Preprint]


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I propose and defend a method of identifying individuals that is applicable across the biological sciences and yet sensitive to the details of particular theories. Specifically, I propose that an individual with respect to a given biological theory is an entity that instantiates the structure of a special class of transformations called the ‘dynamical symmetries’ of the theory. Here, a dynamical symmetry is understood roughly as a transformation of the state of a system that commutes with the increment of another system variable. This notion of individual is dependent upon the causal regularities in a particular domain of biology. However, the approach is completely general in that the same characterization of ‘individual’ in terms of symmetries applies across all biological domains.
The metaphysical and methodological appeal of this approach to identifying individuals derives from the fact that the entities identified in this way share robust causal features and yet are causally independent of one another. To demonstrate the generality as well as the plausibility of the approach, I consider examples from evolutionary theory and ecology.

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Item Type: Preprint
Jantzen, Benjamin
Additional Information: Forthcoming in Philosophical Perspectives on Causal Reasoning in Biology, a volume in the Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science.
Keywords: biological individual; dynamical symmetry; individuality; causation
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
General Issues > Causation
Depositing User: Benjamin Jantzen
Date Deposited: 11 Jun 2020 03:17
Last Modified: 11 Jun 2020 03:17
Item ID: 17300
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
General Issues > Causation
Date: 2018

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