PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Definitions of Life—Why Should We Care (in Astrobiology and Elsewhere)?

The attempt to define life has gained new momentum in the wake of novel fields such as synthetic biology and astrobiology. In a series of articles, Cleland, Chyba, and Machery claim that definitions of life seek to provide necessary and sufficient conditions for applying the concept of life—something that they cannot, and should not do. We argue that this criticism is unwarranted. Cleland, Chyba, and Machery approach definitions of life as classifying devices thereby neglecting their other theoretical and pragmatic roles. To exemplify our argument we examine the NASA definition of life and the study of biosignatures within astrobiology.

Author Information:

Tarja Knuuttila    
Department of Philosophy
University of South Carolina

Andrea Loettgers    
Department of Philosophy
University of Bern, University of Geneva


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