Relational agency: a new ontology for co-evolving systems

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A wide variety of approaches and mechanisms have been proposed to “extend” the neo-Darwinist theory of evolution, including self-organization, symbiogenesis, teleonomy, systems biology and niche construction. These extensions share a focus on agents, networks and processes rather than on independent, static units, such as genes. To develop a new evolutionary synthesis, we therefore need to replace the traditional object-based ontology by one that is here called “relational agency”. The paper sketches the history of both object-based and relational worldviews, going back to their roots in animism and Greek philosophy. It then introduces the basic concepts of the relational agency model: condition-action rules, challenges, agents, reaction networks and chemical organizations. These are illustrated with examples of self-contained ecosystems, genes and cells. The fundamental evolutionary mechanism is that agencies and reactions mutually adapt so as to form a self- maintaining organization, in which everything consumed by one process is produced again by one or more other processes. Such autonomous organization defines a higher-level agency, which will similarly adapt, and thus become embedded in a network of relationships with other agencies.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEvolution ‘On Purpose’
Subtitle of host publicationTeleonomy in Living Systems
EditorsPeter Corning
PublisherMIT Press
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9780262376013
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Publication series

NameVienna Series in Theoretical Biology
PublisherMIT Press


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