Biological Atomism and Cell Theory

Biological atomism postulates that all life is composed of elementary and indivisible vital units. The activity of a living organism is thus conceived as the result of the activities and interactions of its elementary constituents, each of which individually already exhibits all the attributes proper to life. This paper surveys some of the key episodes in the history of biological atomism, and situates cell theory within this tradition. The atomistic foundations of cell theory are subsequently dissected and discussed, together with the theory’s conceptual development and eventual consolidation. This paper then examines the major criticisms that have been waged against cell theory, and argues that these too can be interpreted through the prism of biological atomism as attempts to relocate the true biological atom away from the cell to a level of organization above or below it. Overall, biological atomism provides a useful perspective through which to examine the history and philosophy of cell theory, and it also opens up a new way of thinking about the epistemic decomposition of living organisms that significantly departs from the physicochemical reductionism of mechanistic biology.
Keywords Biological Atomism  Cell Theory  Organismal Theory  Reductionism  Cell
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2010.07.009
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References found in this work BETA
Lenny Moss (2002). What Genes Can't Do. Monograph Collection (Matt - Pseudo).
Daniel J. Nicholson (2012). The Concept of Mechanism in Biology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 43 (1):152-163.
Evelyn Fox Keller (2001). The Century of the Gene. Journal of the History of Biology 34 (3):613-615.
Maureen A. O'Malley (2010). The First Eukaryote Cell: An Unfinished History of Contestation. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 41 (3):212-224.

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Citations of this work BETA
Staffan Müller-Wille (2010). Cell Theory, Specificity, and Reproduction, 1837–1870. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 41 (3):225-231.
Gerhard Müller-Strahl (2014). Matter, Metaphors, and Mechanisms: Rethinking Cell Theories. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 48:130-150.

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