Vaccines make us wholly or partly immune to disease, such as Covid-19. But what is it to be immune? What is an immune system, and what does it do? In its beginnings, immunology was considered the science of the self/non-self distinction: the immune system comprised the self’s defenses against invading non-self pathogens, and was a sophisticated system possessed only by vertebrates. In Philosophy of Immunology (Cambridge University Press, 2020), Thomas Pradeu explains why these traditional conceptions have been upended over the past 20 years or so. It is now accepted that even single celled organisms have immune systems and that immune systems are also active in many biological activities, including regulation of foreign entities that are not part of the body but are not pathogens either, such as the gut microbiome. Pradeu, who is senior researcher at CNRS and University of Bordeaux, defends his view of the individual as an immunologically unified chimera, and speculates about the implications for our understanding of cognition and psychiatric illness in the light of new discoveries of overlap between the immune and nervous systems.
This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme - grant agreement n° 637647 – IDEM.
This book is available OPEN ACCESS (free) here.
Carrie Figdor is professor of philosophy at the University of Iowa.