The becoming of identity: a process-ontological view on the relational co-existence of biological beings

Tina Röck (Lead / Corresponding author)

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


    A fundamental issue when thinking about the agency of organisms is the question of their identity. How could we talk of a biological being’s ongoing engagement with the environment, its continued maintenance of homeostasis, its ability to collaborate with other beings and the like, if it did not persist over time, if it did not have a stable identity? I use the term ‘biological being’ to refer to life at any level of complexity, any level of organisation, any level of integration, i.e., micro- as well as macroscopic nested structures characterising life like cells, organelles, or genes, as well as beings in symbiotic relationships, colonies, multicellular organisms, or even the biosphere. I use the expression ‘biological being’ instead of ‘biological entity’ to denote the processual character (being as a gerund implies a process, a ‘going on’). Finally, I avoid using the term ‘organism’ to steer clear of any preconceived notions as to how ‘identity’ should be defined and what should be the paradigmatic entity, level of organisation, or level of integration from which we can depart to develop the concept of ‘identity’ in biological beings. The identity of biological beings is important not only in determining their sameness over time (diachronic identity), it is also the basis for distinguishing biological beings from each other at one point in time (synchronic identity).

    While some progress has been made in addressing the processual nature of organisms and their diachronic identity, their synchronic identity, or their relational nature, has received less attention. Organisms are not only processual in their existence but also highly relational; they are collaborative, interactive, as well as open and dependent on their environment. This collaborative, open, and relational factor is especially obvious when it comes to beings persisting in mutual holobiotic interdependence, but it applies, to different degrees, to all forms of life. It is this question of how to best conceive of synchronic as well as diachronic identity of biological beings (conceived as processes) that I will address in this contribution. In what follows, I begin by looking at the philosophical concept of identity, then present a critique of the prevalent metaphysical understanding of ‘identity’ in the context of biology, and finally introduce a process-based idea of adequate qualitative identity.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationOrganismal Agency
    Subtitle of host publicationBiological concepts and their philosophical foundations
    EditorsJana Švorcová
    Place of PublicationCham
    ISBN (Electronic)9783031536267
    ISBN (Print)9783031536250, 9783031536281
    Publication statusPublished - 10 May 2024

    Publication series

    ISSN (Print)1875-4651
    ISSN (Electronic)1874-466X


    • Process philosophy
    • Identity
    • Individuation
    • Uniqueness


    Dive into the research topics of 'The becoming of identity: a process-ontological view on the relational co-existence of biological beings'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this