Life and Normativity

Discussions on the philosophical foundations, assumptions, and implications of science, including the natural sciences.

Life and Normativity

Postby Whut on November 8th, 2013, 2:57 pm 

Defining life is an issue itself, but I'm wondering how to do so sufficiently with purely descriptive statements, i.e., non normatively. Here, by descriptive statements I mean those that describe things just the way they are, whereas normative statements are those that describe things they way they are inclined or trying to be. I should be clear that this is different to the type of normative statement discussed in fields like ethics, which have things like prescriptive implications.

So another way of putting it: is it possible to define life without referring to some sort of function? Or, to do so without referring to whatever it is life is doing, as opposed to what it is? Or is it just the case that what life is, inherently has to do with what it does? Hopefully I'm making sense.
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Re: Life and Normativity

Postby BadgerJelly on November 8th, 2013, 4:38 pm 

I am having enough trouble getting across my views on "belief" and "consciousness" at the moment!

Not quite sure what you are looking for? Could you give an example please?

All I can think of is saying life is a conflict of forms, but that is not very descriptive. I guess you are not referring to a biological definition here, but more of a experiential one?
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Re: Life and Normativity

Postby DragonFly on November 8th, 2013, 5:58 pm 

Whut wrote:is it possible to define life without referring to some sort of function? Or, to do so without referring to whatever it is life is doing, as opposed to what it is?


Life is the awareness brought by qualia as experienced right there in the now, thus not requiring any other information, relation, function, or connection.
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Re: Life and Normativity

Postby Whut on November 8th, 2013, 7:29 pm 

Badger, I'd say that what I'm looking for is a biological definition, or atleast one that's scientifically useful. Athough, technically, that might not be a strict definition, but something like a set of criteria. An example of something I take to be normative is self-maintainance.
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Re: Life and Normativity

Postby BadgerJelly on November 9th, 2013, 6:53 am 

Anything with a nervous system. That does leave out all plant life though!

Anything with DNA would be more accurate. I find it very difficult to say much without using words like respiration or reproduction.

What would you say?
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Re: Life and Normativity

Postby owleye on November 9th, 2013, 9:40 am 

There are texts in which life is defined. I no longer have the one I used in order to define it, unfortunately. Mine was an AP High School text. (I seem to recall the editor's name as Cleveland, but I can't be sure.) Basically it includes a number of defining elements, metabolism and reproduction among them. You may recall a number of years ago when scientists discovered small globules within the antarctic ice-block. They were interested in determining whether they would count as life-forms. They had already determined they had alien origin (derivative of an early collision on Mars that swept it onto Earth). They used that definition step wise concluding that it had many of the characteristics of life but lacked one crucial one. It's been so long ago that I can't remember the reasoning (some UCLA professor, I believe).

In any case, as you seem bent on opening a topic on it, I'm probably missing the point. I do read into it that you may not wish to discuss the emergent property of 'function' where you might have the position that it is too abstract or even that it doesn't really exist, in the sense in which it forms part of nature (i.e, the physical universe), but I'm not really sure why you might begin your quest on this board?

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Re: Life and Normativity

Postby sponge on November 9th, 2013, 11:41 am 

How about this…

Life can be defined as varying collections of matter, existing in an unstable, transient and ultimately unsustainable state, which carry the information for self-replication.
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Re: Life and Normativity

Postby neuro on November 9th, 2013, 2:40 pm 

sponge wrote:How about this…

Life can be defined as varying collections of matter, existing in an unstable, transient and ultimately unsustainable state, which carry the information for self-replication.


This is an appreciable definition. And avoids talking about functions (apart for the conceptually well clear specific process of self-replication).

I would propose something similar:
Life is the property that some physical-chemical systems possess, of maintaining the general principles of their structural-functional organization (far from thermodynamic equilibrium), and possibly vary such organization along time, by chemically exploiting external sources of energy; this property implies that such systems must carry the information for self-replication, although the adequacy of such information is is not a necessary condition for life to be there.
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