From Biosphere to Semiosphere to Social Lifeworlds. Biology as an Understanding Social Science

  • Günther Witzany telos – Philosophische Praxis
Keywords: pragmatic turn, rule-governed sign-mediated interactions, Mitwelt, symbiogenesis, global symbiotic interdependence


The change could not be more radical. Biology, as a classical natural science, has celebrated numerous successes. Examining its subject matter from a reductionistic, materialistic point of view has led to exceptional knowledge and given rise to dozens of sub-disciplines. Unfortunately, by pursuing such detail, satisfactory answers to central questions – What is life? How did it originate and how do we view ourselves as living beings? – have been lost in a universe of analytical units. Yet not entirely! A transdisciplinary network is evolving: it goes beyond reductionistic biology, beyond vitalism or a rekindled (metaphysical) enchantment of nature. It is increasingly able to provide better answers to these questions than firmly established, traditional, mechanistic biology: (1.) a semiotics that transcends Peirce, James and Morris to serve as a basis for the interpretation of sign processes in biosemiotics (Kull 2005), (2.) developmental biologists, embryologists and epigeneticists who have turned the paradigm “DNA-RNA-Protein-everything else” (Arthur Kornberg) on its head and who try to understand protein bodies as context-dependent interpreters of the genetic text, (3.) a philosophy that reconstructs biology as an understanding social science which describes the rule-governed sign-mediated interactions of cell individuals to mega-populations in their lifeworlds.