Short works

Books : reviews

Mark A. Bedau, Carol E. Cleland, eds.
The Nature of Life: classical and contemporary perspectives from philosophy and science.
CUP. 2010

Bringing together the latest scientific advances and some of the most enduring subtle philosophical puzzles and problems, this book collects original historical and contemporary sources to explore the wide range of issues surrounding the nature of life.

Selections ranging from Aristotle and Descartes to Sagan and Dawkins are organized around four broad themes covering classical discussions of life, the origins and extent of natural life, contemporary artificial life creations, and the definition and meaning of “life” in its most general form. Each section is preceded by an extensive introduction connecting the various ideas discussed in individual chapters and providing helpful background material for understanding them. With its interdisciplinary perspective, this fascinating collection is essential reading for scientists and philosophers interested in astrobiology, the origin of life, synthetic biology, and the philosophy of life.


Aristotle. De Anima (selections). 2010
René Descartes. Treatise on Man. 1985
Immanuel Kant. Critique of the teleological power of judgment (selections). 2001
Erwin Schrödinger. What is Life? (selections). 1967
Alexander I. Oparin. The nature of life. 1964
Ernst Mayr. What is the meaning of "life"?. 1997
Tibor Gánti. The principles of life (selections). 2003
Leslie E. Orgel. The origin of life: a review of facts and speculation. 1998
Robert Shapiro. Small molecule interactions were central to the origin of life. 2007
Iris Fry. Are the different hypotheses on the emergence of life as different as they seem?. 1995
Norman R. Pace. The universal nature of biochemistry. 2001
Steven A. Benner, Alonso Ricardo, Matthew A. Carrigan. Is there a common chemical model for life in the universe?. 2004
Kenneth H. Nealson. Searching for life in the universe: lessons from Earth. 2001
Carol E. Cleland, Shelley D. Copley. The possibility of alternative microbial life on Earth. 2005
National Research Council of the National Academies. Introduction to the limits of organic life in planetary systems. 2007
Elliott Sober. Learning from Functionalism--Prospects for Strong Artificial Life. 1992
Marc Lange. Life, "artificial life," and scientific explanation. 1996
Margaret A. Boden. Alien life: how would we know?. 2003
Hod Lipson, Jordan B. Pollack. Automatic design and manufacture of robotic life forms. 2000
David W. Deamer. A giant step towards artificial life?. 2005
Pier Luigi Luisi, Francesca Ferri, Pasquale Stano. Approaches to semi-synthetic minimal cells: a review. 2006
Evelyn Fox Keller. Creating "real life". 2002
Carl Sagan. Definitions of life. 1970
Daniel E. Koshland. The seven pillars of life. 2002
Kepa Ruiz-Mirazo, Juli Peretó, Alvaro Moreno. A universal definition of life: autonomy and open-ended evolution. 2004
Carol E. Cleland, Christopher Chyba. Does 'life' have a definition?. 2007
Lynn Margulis, Dorion Sagan. Sentient symphony. 2000
Kim Sterelny, Paul E. Griffiths. What is life?. 1999
Richard Dawkins. Universal Darwinism. 1983
Stuart A. Kauffman. What is Life?. 1997
Mark A. Bedau. Four puzzles about life. 1998

Carol E. Cleland.
The Quest for a Universal Theory of Life: searching for life as we don't know it.
CUP. 2019

Integrating both scientific and philosophical perspectives, this book provides an informed analysis of the challenges of formulating a universal theory of life. Among the issues discussed are crucial differences between definitions and scientific theories and, in the context of examples from the history of science, how successful general theories develop. The central problem discussed is two-fold: First, our understanding of life is still tacitly wedded to an antiquated Aristotelian framework for biology; second, there are compelling reasons for considering that familiar Earth life, which descends from a last universal common ancestor, is unrepresentative. What is needed are examples of life as we don’t know it. Potential sources are evaluated, including artificial life, extraterrestrial life, and a shadow biosphere right here on Earth. A novel strategy for searching for unfamiliar life in the absence of a definition or general theory is developed. This book is a valuable resource for graduate students and researchers studying the nature, origins, and extent of life in the universe.