Volume 92, Issue 2, Spring 2018
Anne Siebels Peterson
Matter in Biology
An Aristotelian Metaphysics for Contemporary Homology
Aristotle insists that the organic matter composing an organism depends for its being and becoming upon the living organism whose organic matter it is. An evolutionary context may at first seem to secure autonomy for an organism’s organic matter: after all, in such a context not only can organisms in divergent taxa have the same trait, but a trait can remain the same through thoroughgoing changes in its form, function, composition, and organismic context over evolutionary time. The biological homology concept attempts to capture this mysterious relationship of trait sameness. However, accounts of biological homology that have dominated the contemporary scene face compelling problems—these problems, I will argue, arise from their exclusion of the organism as an explanatory locus for the being and becoming of biological traits. An evolutionary framework in fact supports an account of homology that retains these two aspects of Aristotle’s views on organic matter.