Edgardo D. Carosella, Thomas Pradeu

The Other Is Within Us Publication date : February 18, 2010

Biology is the most common alibi of the current concern with identity.

Promoters of individual or group identity base their arguments on alleged biological foundations. It is often argued that individuals are unique because of their genes, or because of the great difficulties encountered in transplanting organs between individuals. It is alleged that many complex human characteristics, including psychological traits, may be explained by our genes; that the surest way of “identifying” individuals is by mapping them biologically (biometrics, DNA tests). At the same time, racist and “ethnic” biological and pharmacological analyses have made a major comeback.

Yet modern biology actually contradicts the current withdrawal into parochial notions of identity. Instead of propping up the “identity” movement, biology in fact helps to demolish it. Ultimately, biology suggests that being oneself consists in including the Other.

• A vigorous, well-argued refutation of the current trend to withdraw into individualistic or group identities.

• A precise analysis of the role into which biology was wrongfully cast in defining human identity.

• A defence of the productive, on-going exchange with our environment that we all take part in — because we are by definition composite beings made up of many origins.

Edgardo D. Carosella, a physician, is a member of the French Academy of Sciences, Vice President of CEPH (Human Polymorphism Centre), head of the department for Research in Haemato-Immunology at Hôpital Saint-Louis, Paris, and director of research at the French Atomic Energy Commission. A student and disciple of Jean Dausset (Nobel Prize, 1980), his areas of research are the HLA-G molecule and foetal-maternal tolerance.

Thomas Pradeu, a philosopher, is a senior lecturer at the University of Paris-Sorbonne and an associate member of the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology. His research interests are the philosophy of immunology and, more generally, the philosophy of life sciences.