Viruses as living processes
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Reason for embargo
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Elsevier via the DOI in this record.
The view that life is composed of distinct entities with well-defined boundaries has been undermined in recent years by the realisation of the near omnipresence of symbiosis. What had seemed to be intrinsically stable entities have turned out to be systems stabilised only by the interactions between a complex set of underlying processes (Dupré, 2012). This has not only presented severe problems for our traditional understanding of biological individuality but has also led some to claim that we need to switch to a process ontology to be able adequately to understand biological systems. A large group of biological entities, however, has been excluded from these discussions, namely viruses. Viruses are usually portrayed as stable and distinct individuals that do not fit the more integrated and collaborative picture of nature implied by symbiosis. In this paper we will contest this view. We will first discuss recent findings in virology that show that viruses can be ‘nice’ and collaborate with their hosts, meaning that they form part of integrated biological systems and processes. We further offer various reasons why viruses should be seen as processes rather than things, or substances. Based on these two claims we will argue that, far from serving as a counterexample to it, viruses actually enable a deeper understanding of the fundamentally interconnected and collaborative nature of nature. We conclude with some reflections on the debate as to whether viruses should be seen as living, and argue that there are good reasons for an affirmative answer to this question.
John Dupre University of Exeter Egenis Byrne House, St German's Road Exeter EX4 4PJ UK Guttinger University of Exeter Egenis Byrne House, St German's Road Exeter EX4 4PJ United Kingdom
Available online 16 March 2016