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Form, Fiat, and Intention Chapter 6 The Postmodern Connection Form, Fiat, and Intention L et us return to a theme begun in the previous chapter: Robert , Oyama, and Elliott all endorse a radical version of DST that results in a “fuzzy” organism. When the boundaries between “environment” and “organism” are blurred, the net result is a confused concept of the organism itself. It is important to note that the problem here is metaphysical and not empirical. Robert, Oyama, and Elliott are not asserting that there is a valid criterion whereby we could precisely distinguish organism from environment, but the needed evidence for such a distinction is difficult to observe, and hence we lack the necessary facts to make such a determination. Rather, the problem, according to them, is that the term “organism” itself designates an inherently ambiguous entity. Recall Elliott’s encouragement that we think of different forms of life as a continuum of potential for development rather than as a set of discrete entities. This language parallels the language of Green from the introduction, where the moral consequences of arbitrarily determining what is and what is not an embryo were made clear. 147 148 Form, Fiat, and Intention Logically and ontologically, “fuzzy” organisms turn out to be things that are definable only by stipulation; we simply decide what will count as or be regarded as human. For example, we may say that what is physically inside the cell membrane is part of the “organism” and what is outside is the “environment”; or perhaps the genome is the “organism” and everything else is the “environment.” Whatever criterion is ultimately chosen, however, the key to understanding this version of DST is that it is the very application of the criterion that establishes the entity in the concrete. Both of the above definitions of “organism” have something to recommend them, as well as drawbacks; in the radical version of DST, the ultimate decision on which criterion to use is a matter of human choice. In the introduction as well as in the previous chapter, we referred to such a view as the organism-by-fiat approach.1 While proponents of “organism by fiat” arrive at their conclusion from true observation, they fail to properly interpret what they observe . With respect to the full maturation of an embryo, it is true to say that some “environmental” causes are just as important as “organismal ” ones. On the basis of this equality of contribution, however, the fiat proponents then incorrectly conclude that no hierarchy, or order, or priority exists among developmental causes. In criticism of the hierarchy view, Oyama writes: When environmental variation leads to no phenotypic variation, the phenotype is typically concluded to be “under genetic control.” In contrast, when genetic variation fails to lead to phenotypic variation, people don’t usually say that the species-typical phenotype is under environmental control. The conviction remains that there exists a hierarchy of causes, some quite lowly, involving only the crudest of constraints (not causes at all, really, but raw material), and others that are the true source of form.2 1. Granted that this description initially may strike one as overdrawn, and granted further that few, if any, proponents of this DST variant would consciously draw this conclusion, it is, nevertheless, the logical consequence of their line of reasoning. We also note in passing that this is a source of much of the difficulty in fairly evaluating the arguments of such DST proponents: the logical conclusions to certain lines of reasoning are either not drawn out or are simply denied . This is not true for all, however; as noted in the introduction, Green follows parallel reasoning and even calls his version of the fiat view a “Copernican Revolution.” 2. Susan Oyama, The Ontogeny of Information, 2nd ed., Science and Cultural Theory (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2000), 17. “Phenotype” refers to the specific kind of cell (e.g., a liver cell or a neuron) or a specific characteristic of a single kind of cell (e.g., a skin Form, Fiat, and Intention 149 That causes can and do exist in a hierarchy is easily illustrated with everyday examples. Imagine that you are baking a cake and have run out of flour. At the very moment you realize this, your sister comes back into the house from the grocery store with a bag of flour she had purchased for her own purposes. The cake is saved and your sister has made an essential contribution—one...

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