Technological biology? Things and kinds in synthetic biology

Biology and Philosophy 27 (1):29-48 (2012)
Abstract
Social scientific and humanistic research on synthetic biology has focused quite narrowly on questions of epistemology and ELSI. I suggest that to understand this discipline in its full scope, researchers must turn to the objects of the field—synthetic biological artifacts—and study them as the objects in the making of a science yet to be made. I consider one fundamentally important question: how should we understand the material products of synthetic biology? Practitioners in the field, employing a consistent technological optic in the study and construction of biological systems, routinely employ the mantra ‘biology is technology’. I explore this categorization. By employing an established definition of technological artifects drawn from the philosophy of technology, I explore the appropriateness of attributing to synthetic biological artifacts the four criteria of materiality, intentional design, functionality, and normativity. I then explore a variety of accounts of natural kinds. I demonstrate that synthetic biological artifacts fit each kind imperfectly, and display a concomitant ontological ‘messiness’. I argue that this classificatory ambivalence is a product of the field’s own nascence, and posit that further work on kinds might help synthetic biology evaluate its existing commitments and practices
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    References found in this work BETA
    Robert C. Cummins (1975). Functional Analysis. Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.
    Jonathan Dancy (2006). The Thing to Use. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 37 (1):58-61.

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    Citations of this work BETA
    Axel Gelfert (2013). Synthetic Biology Between Technoscience and Thing Knowledge. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (2):141-149.
    Gry Oftedal & Veli-Pekka Parkkinen (2013). Synthetic Biology and Genetic Causation. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (2):208-216.
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