The Irrelevance of Ontology for the Ethics of Autonomy

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate


The intriguing recent discoveries on the extent of the influence of the microbiome on human physiology, metabolism, and immunology open exciting new scientific horizons. In the philosophy of biology those facts have invoked the idea that a human being (in particular) is more accurately viewed as an ecosystem rather than as a discrete biological individual (Gordon et al. 2005). In light of those facts and of that more general idea they invoke, Beever and Morar (2016) make two claims: First, they argue that the newly discovered biological reality undermines the atomistic ontology of human individuals (thus expanding into biology an analogous criticism already familiar from social ontology); consequently, they claim further that the new ontological picture is one with unfavorable implications for the ethics that centers on personal autonomy. The following discussion criticizes both of these claims. First, I discuss the problematic move from ontology to ethics; subsequently, I briefly argue against the first move from the biological facts to the ontology of the individual.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)46-47
Number of pages2
JournalAmerican Journal of Bioethics
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health Policy
  • Issues, ethics and legal aspects


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