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Summary Philosophers across the 'high-level' sciences, e.g., all sciences except fundamental physics, have asked how the events and processes studied and explained in a particular science relate to those at 'lower levels.' This section addresses this broader topic in the philosophy of science via examples from biology in particular, considering whether biological phenomena--from ecology, evolution, physiology, and genetics--reduce to other sciences--either subfields of biology itself or those outside of it. Philosophers of biology usually understand reductionism in explanatory--rather than syntactic--terms.
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  1. Paul S. Agutter, P. Colm Malone & Denys N. Wheatley (2000). Diffusion Theory in Biology: A Relic of Mechanistic Materialism. [REVIEW] Journal of the History of Biology 33 (1):71 - 111.
    Diffusion theory explains in physical terms how materials move through a medium, e.g. water or a biological fluid. There are strong and widely acknowledged grounds for doubting the applicability of this theory in biology, although it continues to be accepted almost uncritically and taught as a basis of both biology and medicine. Our principal aim is to explore how this situation arose and has been allowed to continue seemingly unchallenged for more than 150 years. The main shortcomings of diffusion theory (...)
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  2. Francisco J. Ayala (1989). Thermodynamics, Information, and Evolution: The Problem of Reductionism. [REVIEW] History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 11 (1):115 - 120.
  3. John Bickle (1992). Revisionary Physicalism. Biology and Philosophy 7 (4):411-30.
    The focus of much recent debate between realists and eliminativists about the propositional attitudes obscures the fact that a spectrum of positions lies between these celebrated extremes. Appealing to an influential theoretical development in cognitive neurobiology, I argue that there is reason to expect such an “intermediate” outcome. The ontology that emerges is a revisionary physicalism. The argument draws lessons about revisionistic reductions from an important historical example, the reduction of equilibrium thermodynamics to statistical mechanics, and applies them to the (...)
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  4. Robert N. Brandon (2010). A Non-Newtonian Newtonian Model of Evolution: The ZFEL View. Philosophy of Science 77 (5):702-715.
  5. Ingo Brigandt (2010). Beyond Reduction and Pluralism: Toward an Epistemology of Explanatory Integration in Biology. [REVIEW] Erkenntnis 73 (3):295-311.
    The paper works towards an account of explanatory integration in biology, using as a case study explanations of the evolutionary origin of novelties-a problem requiring the integration of several biological fields and approaches. In contrast to the idea that fields studying lower level phenomena are always more fundamental in explanations, I argue that the particular combination of disciplines and theoretical approaches needed to address a complex biological problem and which among them is explanatorily more fundamental varies with the problem pursued. (...)
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  6. Megan Delehanty (2005). Emergent Properties and the Context Objection to Reduction. Biology and Philosophy 20 (4):715-734.
    Reductionism is a central issue in the philosophy of biology. One common objection to reduction is that molecular explanation requires reference to higher-level properties, which I refer to as the context objection. I respond to this objection by arguing that a well-articulated notion of a mechanism and what I term mechanism extension enables one to accommodate the context-dependence of biological processes within a reductive explanation. The existence of emergent features in the context could be raised as an objection to (...)
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  7. Richard G. Delisle (2008). Expanding the Framework of the Holism/Reductionism Debate in Neo-Darwinism: The Case of Theodosius Dobzhansky and Bernhard Rensch. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 30 (2):207 - 226.
    The holism/reductionism debate in evolutionary biology has often been analysed as involving two main phenomenological levels within neo-Darwinism: genetic and organismic. This analytical framework assumes that explanation in evolution is either found in the field of genetics or the field of organismic biology. It is argued here that this framework is far too restrictive to incorporate what at least some founding members of neo-Darwinism had in mind in their search for the ultimate cause of evolution. Dobzhansky's "super-holism" locates this drive (...)
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  8. Eric Desjardins (2011). Reflections on Path Dependence and Irreversibility: Lessons From Evolutionary Biology. Philosophy of Science 78 (5):724-738.
  9. J. Dupre (1994). Against Scientific Imperialism. PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association 1994:374 - 381.
    Most discussion of the unity of science has concerned what might be called vertical relations between theories: the reducibility of biology to chemistry, or chemistry to physics, and so on. In this paper I shall be concerned rather with horizontal relations, that is to say, with theories of different kinds that deal with objects at the same structural level. Whereas the former, vertical, conception of unity through reduction has come under a good deal of criticism recently (see, e.g., Dupré 1993), (...)
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  10. John Dupré (2010). It is Not Possible to Reduce Biological Explanations to Explanations in Chemistry and/or Physics. In Francisco José Ayala & Robert Arp (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Biology. Wiley-Blackwell Pub.
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  11. Walter M. Elsasser (1958). The Physical Foundation of Biology. New York, Pergamon Press.
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  12. E. Ernst (1976). Biology Without Mysticism: A Biophysicist's Reflections. Akadémiai Kiadó.
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  13. Markus I. Eronen (2015). Levels of Organization: A Deflationary Account. Biology and Philosophy 30 (1):39-58.
    The idea of levels of organization plays a central role in the philosophy of the life sciences. In this article, I first examine the explanatory goals that have motivated accounts of levels of organization. I then show that the most state-of-the-art and scientifically plausible account of levels of organization, the account of levels of mechanism proposed by Bechtel and Craver, is fundamentally problematic. Finally, I argue that the explanatory goals can be reached by adopting a deflationary approach, where levels of (...)
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  14. Michael Esfeld (2011). Conservative Reductionism. Routledge.
    The dilemma of functionalism -- The metaphysics of causal structures -- The theory of evolution and causal structures in biology -- Case study: classical and molecular genetics -- Conservative functional reduction.
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  15. James Griesemer (2013). Formalization and the Meaning of “Theory” in the Inexact Biological Sciences. Biological Theory 7 (4):298-310.
    Exact sciences are described as sciences whose theories are formalized. These are contrasted to inexact sciences, whose theories are not formalized. Formalization is described as a broader category than mathematization, involving any form/content distinction allowing forms, e.g., as represented in theoretical models, to be studied independently of the empirical content of a subject-matter domain. Exactness is a practice depending on the use of theories to control subject-matter domains and to align theoretical with empirical models and not merely a state of (...)
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  16. Emily Grosholz (2011). Studying Populations Without Molecular Biology: Aster Models and a New Argument Against Reductionism. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 42 (2):246-251.
    During the past few decades, philosophers of biology have debated the issue of reductionism versus anti-reductionism, with both sides often claiming a ‘pluralist’ position. However, both sides also tend to focus on a single research paradigm, which analyzes living things in terms of certain macromolecular components. I offer a case study where biologists pursue other analytic pathways, in a tradition of quantitative genetics that originates with the initially purely mathematical theories of R. A. Fisher, J. B. S. Haldane, and Sewall (...)
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  17. Anna Ijjas (2013). Quantum Aspects of Life: Relating Evolutionary Biology with Theology Via Modern Physics. Zygon 48 (1):60-76.
    In the present paper, I shall argue that quantum theory can contribute to reconciling evolutionary biology with the creation hypothesis. After giving a careful definition of the theological problem, I will, in a first step, formulate necessary conditions for the compatibility of evolutionary theory and the creation hypothesis. In a second step, I will show how quantum theory can contribute to fulfilling these conditions. More precisely, I claim that (1) quantum probabilities are best understood in terms of ontological indeterminism, but (...)
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  18. John R. Jungck (1998). Beyond Reductionism Integrative Approaches to Molecular Biology Julio Collado-Vides Boris Magasanik Temple F. Smith. BioScience 48 (6):479-481.
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  19. Robert Kaspar (1980). Naturgesetz, Kausalität Und Induktion. Ein Beitrag Zur Theoretischen Biologie. Acta Biotheoretica 29 (3-4):129-149.
    According to the situation of recent biology it seems to be necessary to continue the theoretical foundation of this science, and especially a foundation beyond physics and metaphysics. The preconditions of such a project are given with the problems of causality, natural law and induction. The discussion of these subjects in modern philosophy of science did not bring useful results, for philosophy of science itself is orientated by physics. On the other hand even the history of these problems in biology (...)
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  20. Lily E. Kay (1992). Quanta of Life: Atomic Physics and the Reincarnation of Phage. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 14 (1):3 - 21.
    I will use the history of phage to focus on the issue of biological explanations; on the relationship between biology and physics; and on the historical problem of the disciplinary autonomy of biology, versus its reduction, which ultimately seeks to place it within the domain of the physical sciences. Paradoxically, the two physicists I focus on most, Neils Bohr and Max Delbrück, represent attempts to preserve the autonomy of biology, each in a very complex way. Once again the problematique here (...)
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  21. Evelyn Fox Keller (2010). It is Possible to Reduce Biological Explanations to Explanations in Chemistry and/or Physics. In Francisco José Ayala & Robert Arp (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Biology. Wiley-Blackwell Pub.
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  22. Jaegwon Kim (2005). Laws, Causation, and Explanation in the Special Sciences. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 27 (3/4):325 - 338.
    There is the general philosophical question concerning the relationship between physics, which is often taken to be our fundamental and all-encompassing science, on one hand and the special sciences, such as biology and psychology, each of which deals with phenomena in some specially restricted domain, on the other. This paper deals with a narrower question: Are there laws in the special sciences, laws like those we find, or expect to find, in basic physics? Three arguments that are intended to show (...)
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  23. James Maclaurin (2011). Against Reduction. Biology and Philosophy 26 (1):151-158.
    In Molecular Models: Philosophical Papers on Molecular Biology, Sahotra Sarkar presents a historical and philosophical analysis of four important themes in philosophy of science that have been influenced by discoveries in molecular biology. These are: reduction, function, information and directed mutation. I argue that there is an important difference between the cases of function and information and the more complex case of scientific reduction. In the former cases it makes sense to taxonomise important variations in scientific and philosophical usage of (...)
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  24. Alfredo Pérez Martínez (2009). Emergence : Between Reductive and Non Reductive Explanations : Does It Make Sense? In González Recio & José Luis (eds.), Philosophical Essays on Physics and Biology. G. Olms
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  25. Ernst Mayr (2007). What Makes Biology Unique?: Considerations on the Autonomy of a Scientific Discipline. Cambridge University Press.
    This collection of revised and new essays argues that biology is an autonomous science rather than a branch of the physical sciences. Ernst Mayr, widely considered the most eminent evolutionary biologist of the 20th century, offers insights on the history of evolutionary thought, critiques the conditions of philosophy to the science of biology, and comments on several of the major developments in evolutionary theory. Notably, Mayr explains that Darwin's theory of evolution is actually five separate theories, each with its own (...)
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  26. Susan Sauve Meyer (1992). Aristotle, Teleology, and Reduction. Philosophical Review 101 (4):791-825.
  27. David Papineau (1992). Irreducibility and Teleology. In David Charles & Kathleen Lennon (eds.), Reduction, Explanation and Realism. Oxford University Press
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  28. Ángeles Rincón, Juan Antonio Alonso & Luis Sanz (2009). Reduction of Supercritical Multiregional Stochastic Models with Fast Migration. Acta Biotheoretica 57 (4):479-500.
    In this work we study the behavior of a time discrete multiregional stochastic model for a population structured in age classes and spread out in different spatial patches between which individuals can migrate. The dynamics of the population is controlled both by reproduction-survival and by migration. These processes take place at different time scales in the sense of the latter being much faster than the former. We incorporate the effect of demographic stochasticity into the population, which results in both dynamics (...)
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  29. Nils Roll-Hansen (1978). Drosophila Genetics: A Reductionist Research Program. Journal of the History of Biology 11 (1):159 - 210.
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  30. Alicia Juarrero Roqué (1981). Dispositions, Teleology and Reductionism. Philosophical Topics 12 (3):153-165.
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  31. Steven P. R. Rose (1998). Lifelines: Biology Beyond Determinism. Oxford University Press.
    Reductionism--understanding complex processes by breaking them into simpler elements--dominates scientific thinking around the world and has certainly proved a powerful tool, leading to major discoveries in every field of science. But reductionism can be taken too far, especially in the life sciences, where sociobiological thinking has bordered on biological determinism. Thus popular science writers such as Richard Dawkins, author of the highly influential The Selfish Gene, can write that human beings are just "robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish (...)
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  32. Alex Rosenberg (1997). Reductionism Redux: Computing the Embryo. [REVIEW] Biology and Philosophy 12 (4):445-470.
    This paper argues that the consensus physicalist antireductionism in the philosophy of biology cannot accommodate the research strategy or indeed the recent findings of molecular developmental biology. After describing Wolperts programmatic claims on its behalf, and recent work by Gehring and others to identify the molecular determinants of development, the paper attempts to identify the relationship between evolutionary and developmental biology by reconciling two apparently conflicting accounts of bio-function – Wrights and Nagels (as elaborated by Cummins). Finally, the paper seeks (...)
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  33. Alex Rosenberg & David Michael Kaplan (2005). How to Reconcile Physicalism and Antireductionism About Biology. Philosophy of Science 72 (1):43-68.
    Physicalism and antireductionism are the ruling orthodoxy in the philosophy of biology. But these two theses are difficult to reconcile. Merely embracing an epistemic antireductionism will not suffice, as both reductionists and antireductionists accept that given our cognitive interests and limitations, non-molecular explanations may not be improved, corrected or grounded in molecular ones. Moreover, antireductionists themselves view their claim as a metaphysical or ontological one about the existence of facts molecular biology cannot identify, express, or explain. However, this is tantamount (...)
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  34. Alexander Rosenberg (2007). Reductionism (and Antireductionism) in Biology. In David L. Hull & Michael Ruse (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of Biology. Cambridge University Press 349--368.
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  35. William A. Rottschaefer (2008). Biological and Physicochemical Explanations in Experimental Biology. Biological Theory 3 (4):380-390.
  36. Darrell P. Rowbottom (2009). Models in Biology and Physics: What's the Difference? Foundations of Science 14 (4):281-294.
    In Making Sense of Life , Keller emphasizes several differences between biology and physics. Her analysis focuses on significant ways in which modelling practices in some areas of biology, especially developmental biology, differ from those of the physical sciences. She suggests that natural models and modelling by homology play a central role in the former but not the latter. In this paper, I focus instead on those practices that are importantly similar, from the point of view of epistemology and cognitive (...)
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  37. Michael Ruse (2010). Darwinian Reductionism, or, How to Stop Worrying and Love Molecular Biology €“ Alex Rosenberg. Philosophical Quarterly 60 (238):204-208.
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  38. Suzannah Rutherford (2011). Toward a Physical Biology. Bioessays 33 (6):397-397.
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  39. Christian Sachse (2005). Reduction of Biological Properties by Means of Functional Sub-Types. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 27 (3/4):435 - 449.
    The general aim of this paper is to propose a reductionist strategy to higher-level property types. Starting from a common ground in the philosophy of science, I shall elaborate on possible realizer differences of higher-level property types. Because of the realizer types' causal heterogeneity, an introduction of functional sub-types of higher-level properties will be suggested. Each higher-level functional sub-type corresponds to one realizer type. This means that there is the theoretical possibility to reach some kind of type-identity and this opens (...)
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  40. Sahotra Sarkar (1990). On Adaptation: A Reduction of the Kauffman-Levin Model to a Problem in Graph Theory and its Consequences. [REVIEW] Biology and Philosophy 5 (2):127-148.
    It is shown that complex adaptations are best modelled as discrete processes represented on directed weighted graphs. Such a representation captures the idea that problems of adaptation in evolutionary biology are problems in a discrete space, something that the conventional representations using continuous adaptive landscapes does not. Further, this representation allows the utilization of well-known algorithms for the computation of several biologically interesting results such as the accessibility of one allele from another by a specified number of point mutations, the (...)
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  41. Barry Smith, Werner Ceusters, Bert Klagges, Jacob Köhler, Anand Kuma, Jane Lomax, Chris Mungall, , Fabian Neuhaus, Alan Rector & Cornelius Rosse (2005). Relations in Biomedical Ontologies. Genome Biology 6 (5):R46.
    To enhance the treatment of relations in biomedical ontologies we advance a methodology for providing consistent and unambiguous formal definitions of the relational expressions used in such ontologies in a way designed to assist developers and users in avoiding errors in coding and annotation. The resulting Relation Ontology can promote interoperability of ontologies and support new types of automated reasoning about the spatial and temporal dimensions of biological and medical phenomena.
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  42. Daniel Steel (2004). Can a Reductionist Be a Pluralist? Biology and Philosophy 19 (1):55-73.
    Pluralism is often put forth as a counter-position to reductionism. In this essay, I argue that reductionism and pluralism are in fact consistent. I propose that there are several potential goals for reductions and that the proper form of a reduction should be considered in tandem with the goal that it aims to achieve. This insight provides a basis for clarifying what version(s) of reductionism are currently defended, for explicating the notion of a fundamental level of explanation, and for showing (...)
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  43. W. J. Van Der Steen (1975). Some Comments on “Reduction”. Acta Biotheoretica 24 (3-4):163-167.
    Something is wrong with current discussions about theory reduction. The question of whether higher level theories are reducible to lower level theories cannot be posed in a sensible way if methodological principles that are needed to evaluate scientific theories are disregarded. If this is recognized, the problem looses much of its alleged importance.
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  44. Marcel Weber (2008). Critical Notice: Darwinian Reductionism. Biology and Philosophy 23 (1):143-152.
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  45. G. Rickey Welch (1989). Of Men, Molecules, and Reducibility. Bioessays 11 (6):187-190.
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  46. Hub Zwart (2005). Comparative Epistemology: Contours of a Research Program. Acta Biotheoretica 53 (2):77-92.
    This article addresses the question whether and how literary documents can be used to further our understanding of a number of key issues on the agenda of the philosophy of biology such as “complexity” and “reductionism”. Kant already granted a certain respectability to aesthetical experiences of nature in his third Critique. Subsequently, the philosophical movement known as phenomenology often used literary sources and literary techniques to criticize and question mainstream laboratory science. The article discusses a number of literary documents, from (...)
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Reduction in Biology, Misc
  1. Kevin S. Amidon (2008). Adolf Meyer-Abich, Holism, and the Negotiation of Theoretical Biology. Biological Theory 3 (4):357-370.
    Adolf Meyer-Abich spent his career as one of the most vigorous and varied advocates in the biological sciences. Primarily a philosophical proponent of holistic thought in biology, he also sought through collaboration with empirically oriented colleagues in biology, medicine, and even physics to develop arguments against mechanistic and reductionistic positions in the life sciences, and to integrate them into a newly disciplinary theoretical biology. He participated in major publishing efforts including the founding of Acta Biotheoretica. He also sought international contacts (...)
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  2. Michal Arciszewski (2013). Reducing the Dauer Larva: Molecular Models of Biological Phenomena in Caenorhabditis Elegans Research. Synthese 190 (18):4155-4179.
    One important aspect of biological explanation is detailed causal modeling of particular phenomena in limited experimental background conditions. Recognising this allows one to appreciate that a sufficient condition for a reduction in biology is a molecular model of (1) only the demonstrated causal parameters of a biological model and (2) only within a replicable experimental background. These identities—which are ubiquitous in biology and form the basis of ruthless reductions (Bickle, Philosophy and neuroscience: a ruthlessly reductive account, 2003)—are criticised as merely (...)
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  3. Francisco Ayala (2004). What Makes Biology Unique? Ernst Mayr at 100. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 26 (2):243 - 256.
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  4. Tudor Baetu (2012). Emergence, Therefore Antireductionism? A Critique of Emergent Antireductionism. Biology and Philosophy 27 (3):433-448.
    Emergent antireductionism in biological sciences states that even though all living cells and organisms are composed of molecules, molecular wholes are characterized by emergent properties that can only be understood from the perspective of cellular and organismal levels of composition. Thus, an emergence claim (molecular wholes are characterized by emergent properties) is thought to support a form of antireductionism (properties of higher-level molecular wholes can only be understood by taking into account concepts, theories and explanations dealing with higher-level entities). I (...)
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