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The Return of the Organism as a Fundamental Explanatory Concept in Biology



Although it may seem like a truism to assert that biology is the science that studies organisms, during the second half of the twentieth century the organism category disappeared from biological theory. Over the past decade, however, biology has begun to witness the return of the organism as a fundamental explanatory concept. There are three major causes: (a) the realization that the Modern Synthesis does not provide a fully satisfactory understanding of evolution; (b) the growing awareness of the limits of reductionism in molecular biology; and (c) the renewed interest in the nature of life as a genuine scientific problem. This essay examines these recent developments and considers the new epistemological roles being played by the organism in each of them. It also reflects on what the present resurgence of the organism means for the philosophy of biology.