Becoming organisms: the organisation of development and the development of organisation.

History and philosophy of the life sciences

PubMedID: 21162372

de la Rosa LN. Becoming organisms: the organisation of development and the development of organisation. Hist Philos Life Sci. 2010;32(2-3):289-315.
Despite the radical importance of embryology in the development of organicism, developmental biology remains philosophically underexplored as a theoretical and empirical resource to clarify the nature of organisms. This paper discusses how embryology can help develop the organisational definition of the organism as a differentiated, functionally integrated, and autonomous system. I distinguish two conceptions of development in the organisational tradition that yield two different conceptions of the organism: the life-history view claims that organisms can be considered as such during their whole ontogeny; the constitutive view distinguishes two periods in the life history, a period of generation and a period of self-maintenance of a constitutive organisation. Arguing in favour of the constitutive view, it will be claimed that the organisational criteria for the definition of organism (i.e., differentiation, functional integration, and autonomy) can only be applied to the developmental system when it has entered the period of self-maintenance of a constitutive organisation. Under the light of current research in developmental biology, it is possible to make explicit how organisms come to be as organisms. To this end, I explore key ontogenetic events that help us clarify the core aspects of animal organisation and allow us to identify the developmental stage that marks the ontological transition between an organism in potency and an organism in actuality. The structure of this ontogenetic unfolding parallels the conceptual structure of the very notion of organism; the generation of the being of a particular organism parallels its definition.