Generativity in biology

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The behavior of an organism, according to Merleau-Ponty, lays out a milieu through which significant phenomena of varying degrees of optimality elicit adjustment. This leads to the dialectical co-emergence of milieu and aptitude that is both the product and the condition of life. What is present as a norm soliciting optimization is species-specific, but it also depends on the needs of the organism and its prior experience. Although a rich entry point into biological phenomenology, Merleau-Ponty’s work does not adequately describe milieu–aptitude development in interactions between organisms, but it can be assisted through employing Husserl’s three levels of analysis identified by Steinbock, extending all three modes into the biological world. In particular, generative analyses can address inter-organismal behavioral structures slighted in Merleau-Ponty’s work. Generative phenomenology is concerned with the cultural, historical, and intersubjective constitution of human experience and is generally thought to be solely of value in examining the structure of human phenomenality. However, the possibility of human generativity presupposes structures produced widely in the biological world. Ecological, embryogenic, and evolutionary development already depend on protocultural and historical processes creating and created through intercorporeal interaction. After developing the concept of biological generativity through a consideration of plant ecology, mammalian embryology, and insect mimicry, I conclude with implications for humans, who can participate in biological generativity not merely phenomenally, but phenomenologically.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)149-162
Number of pages14
JournalPhenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences
Issue number1
Early online date18 May 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2015


  • Generative phenomenology
  • Husserl
  • Steinbock
  • Merleau-Ponty
  • Umwelt
  • Ecology
  • Autopoiesis
  • Phenomenology of life


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