Plant individuality: a solution to the demographer's dilemma

Ellen Clarke
2012 Biology & Philosophy  
The problem of plant individuality is something which has vexed botanists throughout the ages, with fashion swinging back and forth from treating plants as communities of individuals (Darwin 1800; Braun and Stone 1853; Münch 1938) to treating them as organisms in their own right, and although the latter view has dominated mainstream thought most recently (Harper 1977; Cook 1985; Ariew and Lewontin 2004), a lively debate conducted mostly in Scandinavian journals proves that the issues are far
more » ... m being resolved (Tuomi and Vuorisalo 1989b; Fagerström 1992; Pan and Price 2001). In this paper I settle the matter once and for all, by showing which elements of each side are correct. This paper presents a philosophical treatment of the nature of biological individuals, as assessed from the perspective of plants. I argue that plants violate the formal criteria given by the most popular ways of defining individuals, leaving us with the uncomfortable prospect of omitting this kingdom altogether from the domain of objects to which fitnesses can be assigned. I aim to show how universality can be restored to the concept of the individual by zeroing in on control of heritable variance in fitness as the basic criterion that the classical views are all pointing towards. The basic claim is that if plants have mechanisms which determine the hierarchical level at which selection is able to act, then they should qualify as
doi:10.1007/s10539-012-9309-3 fatcat:2vaeea73qfgc5c2tokim3sqxey