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What is Life-in Everyday Understanding? A Focus Group Study on Lay Perspectives on the Term Life

What is Life-in Everyday Understanding? A Focus Group Study on Lay Perspectives on the Term Life

Artificial Life 22(1): 119-133

The philosophical and scientific debate about definitions of life-as-we-know-it and its value is very diverse. How do non-biologists characterize these issues? We held focus groups to shed light on the role of the term life in laypeople's understanding. Results show that features of early childhood cognition dominate the understanding of the term life even in adulthood. Textbook knowledge and definitions derived from specific knowledge systems and beliefs are of minor importance. For an ethical differentiation between life forms the ability to feel and to suffer is seen as the crucial criterion. We conclude that lay perspectives on the concept of life can shape a normative discourse on existing as well as on new life forms in a crucial way. In addition, these perspectives may also strongly influence the expectations towards the life-as-it-could-be that is brought forward by the artificial life community. While some concepts like metabolism exist both in scientific and in everyday reasoning as criteria for life, the normative discussion on life is dominated by such ideas as a hierarchical order of living kinds, which emphasize "easy to think" concepts of a moral differentiation. These can also form a basis for the moral standing of artificial life.

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Accession: 059261589

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PMID: 26649809

DOI: 10.1162/ARTL_a_00181

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