1. ESRC Genomics Network (archive)
  2. Gengage
  3. The Human Genre Project

Egenis · Research

Biology and Ontology: An Organism-centred View

Catherine (Katie) Kendig

Start date


Affiliated staff

Lenny Moss


Homepages: , Lenny Moss Email: c.kendig@gmail.com Address: UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK Phone: 020 7679 1328

Funded by

ESRC (Egenis)


Explanations of organismal forms are often couched in terms of a force or essence that exists prior to the organism’s life in the world. This classical view poses, in particular, 1) that traits of organisms are products of the selective environment and the unbroken linear inheritance of genetically coded developmental programs, 2) that homological traits share unbroken vertical inheritance from a single common ancestor, and 3) that species are the product of exclusive gene flow between conspecifics and vertical genetic inheritance.


In place of this underlying preformationism which locates the source of form either in the informational program of inherited genes or within a selecting environment, I suggest that form is the product of an organism’s self-construction using diverse resources. This can be understood as a modification of Kant’s view of organisms as self-organizing set out in his Critique of Judgment (1790). Recast from this perspective the meaning and reference of “trait,” “homology,” and “species,” and change. A trait may be the product of the organism’s self-construction utilizing multiple ancestral resources. Given this, homologous traits may correspond in some but not all of their features or may share some but not all of their ancestral sources. Homology may be partial. Species may acquire epigenetic, cellular, behavioural, and ecological resources both vertically and horizontally. As such, they are best conceived of as recurrent successions of self-constructed and reconstructed life cycles of organisms sharing similar resources, a similar habitus, similar capacities for sustaining themselves, and repeated generative processes.