A Phenomenological Interpretation of Organisms

  • Author / Creator
    Huang, Zi Yun
  • In contemporary scientific theories of evolution, organisms are construed as if they were the products of genes and gene-expression. Much of our biological research operate on the assumptions that (1) organisms are reducible to and reconstructible from their genes, and (2) the organism, as a whole, is constituted by genes in a mosaic manner. The aim of my thesis is to reconsider organisms from a phenomenological point of view. I take up the question of how organisms exist by revisiting the phenomenon of organisms—that is, the manner in which organisms appear and show themselves—if we bracket our pre-established ways of knowing them. By suspending the usual theories and dichotomies by which we think of organisms, I show the potential of a phenomenological approach for an examination of organisms that does beyond what is available to biology as a science, or to standard philosophy of biology. Specifically drawing on the works of Merleau-Ponty, I will argue that organisms are “lived-bodies”, and that the relation they bear with their environment is one of meaning. I begin by recounting our current scientific (mechanistic) account of organisms from the Modern Synthesis theory of evolution, and the position of gene-centrism within the Modern Synthesis. I then consider alternatives within scientific biology to gene-centrism, specifically, objections arising from Ecological Evolutionary Development and Niche Construction Theory in favours of a more ecological approach to evolution. Next I turn to the Umwelt Theory of Jakob von Uexküll, both as a secondary objection against mechanistic biology, and as an argument for the relevance of meaning in biology. Criticizing each view presented in these chapters, I argue that they are each inadequate (albeit not strictly mistaken) in their various accounts of organisms. It is lastly with the help of Merleau-Ponty that I argue we can explore a more adequate understanding of organisms and the organism-environment relation.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2018
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.