David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Biology and Philosophy 5 (3):293-311 (1990)
T. H. Morgan (1866–1945), the founder of the Drosophila research group in genetics that established the chromosome theory of Mendelian inheritance, has been described as a radical empiricist in the historical literature. His empiricism, furthermore, is supposed to have prejudiced him against certain scientific conclusions. This paper aims to show two things: first, that the sense in which the term empiricism has been used by scholars is too weak to be illuminating. It is necessary to distinguish between empiricism as an epistemological position and the so-called methodological empiricism. I will argue that the way the latter has been presented cannot distinguish an empiricist methodology from a non-empiricist one. Second, I will show that T. H. Morgan was not an epistemological empiricist as this term is usually defined in philosophy. The reason is that he believed in the existence of genes as material entities when they were unobservable entities when they were unobservable entities introduced to account for the phenotypic ratios found in breeding experiments. These two points, of course, are interrelated. If we were to water down the meaning of empiricis, perhaps we could call Morgan an empiricist. But then we would also fail to distinguish empiricism from realism.
|Keywords||Epistemological empiricism methodological empiricism realism genes T. H. Morgan|
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