Biological Autonomy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The nature of biological autonomy and the choice of an appropriate framework for understanding it are subjects of ongoing debates in philosophy of biology and cognitive science. The enactivist view, originating with Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, emphasizes the concepts of organizational or operational closure and structural coupling between the organism and its environment as central in the context of autonomy. The proponents of this view contrast it with the traditional cybernetic paradigm based on inputs, outputs, feedback, and internal representations. This essay takes a synoptic view of the relevant issues and situates them in the context of modern theory of systems and control, in particular the behavioral approach developed by Jan Willems. It is argued that the behavioral approach, which favors a fairly liberal notion of control as interconnection without any prefigured designation of inputs and outputs, provides a more fruitful background for understanding and modeling of biological autonomy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)303–308
Number of pages6
JournalBiological Theory
Issue number4
Early online dateJun 15 2023
StatePublished - Dec 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Biological autonomy
  • Control
  • Dynamical systems
  • Enactivism
  • Mechanism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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