Laws of biology, laws of nature: Problems and (dis)solutions

Philosophy Compass 2 (3):592–610 (2007)
Abstract
This article serves as an introduction to the laws-of-biology debate. After introducing the main issues in an introductory section, arguments for and against laws of biology are canvassed in Section 2. In Section 3, the debate is placed in wider epistemological context by engaging a group of scholars who have shifted the focus away from the question of whether there are laws of biology and toward offering good accounts of explanation(s) in the biological sciences. Section 4 introduces two relatively new pieces of science – metabolic scaling theory and ecological stoichiometry – that have not been topics of much discussion by philosophers but are relevant because they have at least some of the hallmarks of laws of nature. Section 5 concludes by pointing out that discovering laws of biology, if any there be, will not necessarily answer the questions raised by the debate in the first place: we will still want to know how biology compares to other sciences, how to characterize its systems and processes, and whether accounts in terms of laws always or usually constitute adequate explanations in various sciences.
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