Extended inheritance from an organizational point of view

Hist Philos Life Sci. 2015 Dec;37(4):430-48. doi: 10.1007/s40656-015-0088-4. Epub 2015 Oct 9.


In this paper, I argue that the increasing data about non-genetic inheritance requires the construction of a new conceptual framework that should complement the inclusive approaches already discussed in the literature. More precisely, I hold that this framework should be epistemologically relevant for evolutionary biologists in capturing the limits of extended inheritance and in reassessing the boundaries of biological systems that transmit traits to their offspring. I outline the first elements of an organizational account of extended inheritance. In this account, the category of inherited factors is neither restricted to genes nor extended to stable resources related to trans-generational similarities. Instead, it includes persisting constitutive elements appearing as difference makers for heterogeneous organizational constraints, namely for heterogeneous constitutive parts whose specific role is to harness flows of matter and energy across generations of clearly delimited extended organized systems. This both inclusive and restrictive framework opens an additional way to apprehend how extended inheritance may affect evolutionary trajectories.

Keywords: Extended inheritance; Extended organization; Persisting organizational constraints; Stable resources.

MeSH terms

  • Biological Evolution*
  • Heredity*
  • Models, Biological