This talk examines the problem of biological individuality through the lens of natural kinds. Biology utilizes a variety of kinds of individuals, including historical, functional, structural, developmental, physiological, and ecological kinds. In many cases these kinds issue in non-overlapping demarcations of biological systems and/or assign them to different hierarchical levels. For example, from physiological and developmental perspectives a worker bee is an individual organism, whereas from an evolutionary perspective it may be a part of a superorganism analogous to an organ. I propose one way of evaluating such rival perspectives, which is to assess the capacity of their associated kinds to support true inductive inferences. On this basis, I argue that the functional kind ‘object of selection,’ which is central to evolutionary accounts of individuality, is inferentially weak compared to other kinds, in addition to being operationally parasitic on non-functional biological kinds. These weaknesses can be traced to more general limitations of functionally defined kinds in the sciences.
James received his PhD in Philosophy from University of Leuven, Belgium, with a dissertation entitled "Process and Levels of Organization: A Dynamic Ontology for the Life Sciences." His research focuses on problems related to biological organization, functions, individuality, and levels, as well as on a variety of themes in naturalistic metaphysics including physicalism and the relations between scientific domains.