Immunity: The Evolution of an Idea

ISBN : 9780190914196

Alfred I. Tauber
328 Pages
156 x 234 mm
Pub date
Sep 2018
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Modern immunology traditionally conceives of the immune system as providing defense against pathogens. Alfred I. Tauber criticizes this conception of immunity as too narrow, because it discounts much of the immune system's other normal functions. These include active tolerance of nutritional exchanges with the environment and the stabilization of cooperative relationships with resident micro-organisms. An expanded account extends immunity's functional role from singular 'defense' to broadened discernment of environmental 'exchange.' This ecological perspective has profound theoretical implications, for the basic notion of immune identity is reconfigured: highlighting the organism as a holobiont (a consortium of diverse organisms living in cooperative relationships) challenges prevailing concepts of individuality and the self/nonself dichotomy heretofore organizing immune theory. Indeed, if theoretical interest is focused on the challenges of maintaining immune balance in the full ecological context of the organism, then immune regulation assumes new complexity. Tauber maintains that the key to unravelling that puzzle requires a critical re-assessment of the cognitive processes that underlie immune effector functions. Accordingly, he provides the outline of a re-formulated 'cognitive paradigm' that dispenses with agent-based models and adopts an ecologically conceived understanding of perception and information processing. The implications of this revised configuration of immunity and its deconstructed notions of individuality and selfhood have wide significance for philosophers and life scientists working in immunology, ecology, and the cognitive sciences.


Chapter 1: A History of the Immune Self
Chapter 2: Whither Immune Identity?
Chapter 3: Individuality Revised
Chapter 4: Immune Cognition
Chapter 5: Eco-immunology
Chapter 6: A New Biology?

About the author: 

Alfred I. Tauber is Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus and Zoltan Kohn Professor of Medicine, Emeritus at Boston University, where he served as Director of the Center for Philosophy and History of Science from 1993 to 2010. Author of The Immune Self (Cambridge 1994) and co-author of Metchnikoff and the Origins of Immunology (Oxford 1991) and the Generation of Diversity (Harvard 1997), he has also published extensively in ethics and science studies.

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