Pregnant Females as Historical Individuals: An Insight From the Philosophy of Evo-Devo

Criticisms of the “container” model of pregnancy picturing female and embryo as separate entities multiply in various philosophical and scientific contexts during the last decades. In this paper, we examine how this model underlies received views of pregnancy in evolutionary biology, in the characterization of the transition from oviparity to viviparity in mammals and in the selectionist explanations of pregnancy as an evolutionary strategy. In contrast, recent evo-devo studies on eutherian reproduction, including the role of inflammation and new maternal cell types, gather evidence in favor of considering pregnancy as an evolved relational novelty. Our thesis is that from this perspective we can identify the emergence of a new historical individual in evolution. In evo-devo, historical units are conceptualized as evolved entities which fulfill two main criteria, their continuous persistence and their non-exchangeability. As pregnancy can be individuated in this way, we contend that pregnant females are historical individuals. We argue that historical individuality differs from, and coexists with, other views of biological individuality as applied to pregnancy (the physiological, the evolutionary and the ecological one), but brings forward an important new insight which might help dissolve misguided conceptions.

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