Comprised of essays by top scholars in the field, this volume offers concise overviews of philosophical issues raised by biology. Brings together a team of eminent scholars to explore the philosophical issues raised by biology Addresses traditional and emerging topics, spanning molecular biology and genetics, evolution, developmental biology, immunology, ecology, mind and behaviour, neuroscience, and experimentation Begins with a thorough introduction to the field Goes beyond previous treatments that focused only on evolution to give equal attention (...) to other areas, such as molecular and developmental biology Represents both an authoritative guide to philosophy of biology, and an accessible reference work for anyone seeking to learn about this rapidly-changing field. (shrink)
The writings of Joseph Henry Woodger (1894–1981) are often taken to exemplify everything that was wrongheaded, misguided, and just plain wrong with early twentieth-century philosophy of biology. Over the years, commentators have said of Woodger: (a) that he was a fervent logical empiricist who tried to impose the explanatory gold standards of physics onto biology, (b) that his philosophical work was completely disconnected from biological science, (c) that he possessed no scientific or philosophical credentials, (...) and (d) that his work was disparaged – if not altogether ignored – by the biologists and philosophers of his era. In this paper, we provide the first systematic examination of Woodger’s oeuvre, and use it to demonstrate that the four preceding claims are false. We argue that Woodger’s ideas have exerted an important influence on biology and philosophy, and submit that the current consensus on his legacy stems from a highly selective reading of his works. By rehabilitating Woodger, we hope to show that there is no good reason to continue to disregard the numerous contributions to the philosophy of biology produced in the decades prior to the professionalization of the discipline. (shrink)
This is the first of two articles in which I reflect on “generalized Darwinism” as currently discussed in evolutionary economics. I approach evolutionary economics by the roundabouts of evolutionary epistemology and the philosophy of biology, and contrast evolutionary economists’ cautious generalizations of Darwinism with “imperialistic” proposals to unify the behavioral sciences. I then discuss the continued resistance to biological ideas in the social sciences, focusing on the issues of naturalism and teleology. In the companion article (Callebaut, Biol Theory (...) 6. doi:10.1007/s13752-013-0087-1, 2011, this issue) I assess generalized Darwinism, concentrating on the roles of theory and model building, generative replication, and the relation between selection and self-organization; and I point to advances in biology that promise to be more fruitful as sources of inspiration for evolutionary economics than the project to generalize Darwinism in its current, “hardened Modern Synthesis” form. (shrink)
Perhaps because of it implications for our understanding of human nature, recent philosophy of biology has seen what might be the most dramatic work in the philosophies of the ”special” sciences. This drama has centered on evolutionary theory, and in the second edition of this textbook, Elliott Sober introduces the reader to the most important issues of these developments. With a rare combination of technical sophistication and clarity of expression, Sober engages both the higher level of theory and (...) the direct implications for such controversial issues as creationism, teleology, nature versus nurture, and sociobiology. Above all, the reader will gain from this book a firm grasp of the structure of evolutionary theory, the evidence for it, and the scope of its explanatory significance. (shrink)
The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Biology is an exciting collection of new essays written especially to give the reader an introduction to one of the most vibrant areas of scholarship today, and at the same time to move the subject forward dramatically. Written in a clear and rigorous style it will give the more experienced scholar much to think about and will also be of great value to the new student of the subject. The handbook covers the (...) history of the topic, then moves into important analyses of contemporary evolutionary thinking, and continues with discussions of genetics and the moral and epistemological foundations of our understanding of heredity. The book goes on to cover ecology, behavior and morality, and does not neglect religion or feminist issues. Finally, it takes up matters to do with language and metaphor. The authors range from the senior and experienced to new and exciting young scholars. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Biology is a collection that will be of interest to philosophers of science, to philosophers generally, as well as biologists of all kinds. There is no better way to learn about this dynamic field than through the essays in this volume. (shrink)
Aside from his remarkable studies in psychology and the social sciences, Donald Thomas Campbell (1916–1996) made significant contributions to philosophy, particularly philosophy of science,epistemology, and ethics. His name and his work are inseparably linked with the evolutionary approach to explaining human knowledge (evolutionary epistemology). He was an indefatigable supporter of the naturalistic turn in philosophy and has strongly influenced the discussion of moral issues (evolutionary ethics). The aim of this paper is to briefly characterize Campbells work and (...) to discuss its philosophical implications. In particular, I show its relevance to some current debates in the intersection of biology and philosophy. In fact, philosophy of biology would look poorer without Campbells influence. The present paper is not a hagiography but an attempt to evaluate and critically discuss the meaning of Campbells work for philosophy of biology and to encourage scholars working in this field to read and re-read this work which is both challenging and inspiring. (shrink)
The philosophy of biology is one of the most exciting new areas in the field of philosophy and one that is attracting much attention from working scientists. This Companion, edited by two of the founders of the field, includes newly commissioned essays by senior scholars and up-and-coming younger scholars who collectively examine the main areas of the subject - the nature of evolutionary theory, classification, teleology and function, ecology, and the problematic relationship between biology and religion, (...) among other topics. Up-to-date and comprehensive in its coverage, this unique volume will be of interest not only to professional philosophers but also to students in the humanities and researchers in the life sciences and related areas of inquiry. (shrink)
In addition to being one of the world's most influential philosophers, Aristotle can also be credited with the creation of both the science of biology and the philosophy of biology. He was the first thinker to treat the investigations of the living world as a distinct inquiry with its own special concepts and principles. This book focuses on a seminal event in the history of biology - Aristotle's delineation of a special branch of theoretical knowledge devoted (...) to the systematic investigation of animals. Aristotle approached the creation of zoology with the tools of subtle and systematic philosophies of nature and of science that were then carefully tailored to the investigation of animals. The papers collected in this volume, written by a pre-eminent figure in the field of Aristotle's philosophy and biology, examine Aristotle's approach to biological inquiry and explanation, his concepts of matter, form and kind, and his teleology. (shrink)
Drawing on work of the past decade, this volume brings together articles from the philosophy, history, and sociology of science, and many other branches of the biological sciences. The volume delves into the latest theoretical controversies as well as burning questions of contemporary social importance. The issues considered include the nature of evolutionary theory, biology and ethics, the challenge from religion, and the social implications of biology today (in particular the Human Genome Project).
Philosophy of biology, perhaps more than any other philosophy of science, is a discipline in flux. What counts as consensus and key arguments in certain areas changes rapidly.The publication of Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Biology (2010 Wiley-Blackwell) is reviewed and is used as a catalyst to a discussion of the recent expansion of subjects and perspectives in the philosophy of biology as well as their diverse epistemological and methodological commitments.
This book examines from a multidisciplinary viewpoint the question of what we mean - what we should mean - by setting sustainability as a goal for environmental management. The author, trained as a philosopher of science and language, explores ways to break down the disciplinary barriers to communication and deliberation about environment policy, and to integrate science and evaluations into a more comprehensive environmental policy. Choosing sustainability as the keystone concept of environmental policy, the author explores what we can learn (...) about sustainable living from the philosophy of pragmatism, from ecology, from economics, from planning, from conservation biology and from related disciplines. The idea of adaptive, or experimental, management provides the context, while insights from various disciplines are integrated into a comprehensive philosophy of environmental management. The book will appeal to students and professionals in the fields of environmental policy and ethics, conservation biology, and philosophy of science. (shrink)
Elliott Sober is one of the leading philosophers of science and is a former winner of the Lakatos Prize, the major award in the field. This new collection of essays will appeal to a readership that extends well beyond the frontiers of the philosophy of science. Sober shows how ideas in evolutionary biology bear in significant ways on traditional problems in philosophy of mind and language, epistemology, and metaphysics. Amongst the topics addressed are psychological egoism, solipsism, and (...) the interpretation of belief and utterance, empiricism, Ockham's razor, causality, essentialism, and scientific laws. The collection will prove invaluable to a wide range of philosophers, primarily those working in the philosophy of science, the philosophy of mind, and epistemology. (shrink)
Mayr has made both conceptual and professional contributions to the establishment of the history and philosophy of biology. His conceptual contributions include, among many others, the notion of population thinking. He has also played an important role in the establishment of history and philosophy of biology as viable professional disciplines.
Yellowstone National Park poses critical issues in biology and philosophy. Among these are (1) how to value nature, especially at the ecosystem level, and whether to let nature take its course or employ hands-on scientific management; (2) the meaning of natural as this operates in park policy; (3) establishing biological claims on th scale of regional systems; (4) the interplay of natural and cultural history, involving both native and European Americans; (5) and sociopolitical forces as determinants in biological (...) discovery. Alston Chase's strident Playing God in Yellowstone is critized and used as a test of David Hull's naturalistic philosophy of biology. Biology and philosophy in Yellowstone ought to combine for an appropriate environmental ethic. (shrink)
A consensus exists among contemporary philosophers of biology about the history of their field. According to the received view, mainstream philosophy of science in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s focused on physics and general epistemology, neglecting analyses of the 'special sciences', including biology. The subdiscipline of philosophy of biology emerged (and could only have emerged) after the decline of logical positivism in the 1960s and 70s. In this article, I present bibliometric data from four major (...)philosophy of science journals (Erkenntnis, Philosophy of Science, Synthese, and the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science), covering 1930-59, which challenge this view. (shrink)
This overview of philosophy of biology lays out what implications biology and recent philosophy of biology have for general philosophy of science. The following topics are addressed in five sections: natural kinds, conceptual change, discovery and confirmation, explanation and reduction, and naturalism.
This paper surveys recent philosophy of biology. It aims to introduce outsiders to the field to the recent literature (which is reviewed in the footnotes) and the main recent debates. I concentrate on three of these: recent critiques of the replicator/vehicle distinction and its application to the idea of the gene as the unit of section; the recent defences of group selection and the idea that standard alternatives to group selection are in fact no more than a disguised (...) form of group selection; and recent ideas on the role of selection in evolution, especially the role of selection in structuring the large-scale history of life. The paper connects philosophy of biology to some more general problems in the philosophy of science, and concludes with a few suggestions about unfinished business. (shrink)
p. 13: But if Mayr himself was an unconscious 'physicalist', why did he argue so forcefully against the machine theory of life? In part his dissatisfaction with this approach can be explained as a residue of earlier experiences. When he started to argue for the autonomy of biology in the early 1960s, the unique, emergent characteristics of organisms were ignored by the philosophy of science which was dominated by physics (Greene 1994; Hull 1994). In this situation Mayr not (...) only criticised this particular neglect as reductionism, but questioned the usefulness of the physicalist approach for biology in general. In recent decades this situation has clearly changed and this was also due to Mayr's relentless fight for the recognition of the unique aspects of biology. Nevertheless he stuck to his broad rejection and ignored developments toward a more sophisticated view (cf. Emmeche, Koppe and Stjernfelt 1997). But there is probably more to it. His second motivation is an emotional aversion against connotations and implications of the word 'machine'. The view that organisms-including humans!-are 'survival machines', 'robot vehicles' programmed to preserve their genes conveys a deterministic and mechanistic view that is perceived by many persons as a gross 'narcissistic insult' (Freud 1917, pp. 6, 7). It is a view that Mayr definitely did not appreciate. (shrink)
This paper reviews Rosenberg’s and McShea’s textbook in philosophy of biology, entitled Philosophy of Biology. A Contemporary Introduction. I insist on the excellent quality of this textbook, then I turn to more critical comments, which deal mainly with what philosophy of biology is, and what it should be.
The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Biology covers a broad range of topics in this field. It is not just a textbook focusing on evolutionary theory but encompasses ethics, social science and behaviour too. This essay outlines the scope of the work, discusses some points on methodology in the philosophy of biology, and then moves on to a more detailed analysis of cultural evolution and the applicability of a philosophy of biology toolkit to the (...) social sciences. It is noted that concepts like the species concept may generalise to other domains whilst failing to account for the nature of all species. Finally, the author notes the omission of any discussion of information in biology. (shrink)
Ernst Mayr’s influence on philosophy of biology has given the field a particular perspective on evolution, phylogeny and life in general. Using debates about the tree of life as a guide, I show how Mayrian evolutionary biology excludes numerous forms of life and many important evolutionary processes. Hybridization and lateral gene transfer are two of these processes, and they occur frequently, with important outcomes in all domains of life. Eukaryotes appear to have a more tree-like history because (...) successful lateral events tend to occur among more closely related species, or at a lower frequency, than in prokaryotes, but this is a difference of degree rather than kind. Although the tree of life is especially problematic as a representation of the evolutionary history of prokaryotes, it can function more generally as an illustration of the limitations of a standard evolutionary perspective. Moreover, for philosophers, questions about the tree of life can be applied to the Mayrian inheritance in philosophy of biology. These questions make clear that the dichotomy of life Mayr suggested is based on too narrow a perspective. An alternative to this dichotomy is a multidimensional continuum in which different strategies of genetic exchange bestow greater adaptiveness and evolvability on prokaryotes and eukaryotes. (shrink)
Philosophers of biology, along with everyone else, generally perceive life to fall into two broad categories, the microbes and macrobes, and then pay most of their attention to the latter. ‘Macrobe’ is the word we propose for larger life forms, and we use it as part of an argument for microbial equality. We suggest that taking more notice of microbes – the dominant life form on the planet, both now and throughout evolutionary history – will transform some of the (...)philosophy of biology’s standard ideas on ontology, evolution, taxonomy and biodiversity. We set out a number of recent developments in microbiology – including biofilm formation, chemotaxis, quorum sensing and gene transfer – that highlight microbial capacities for cooperation and communication and break down conventional thinking that microbes are solely or primarily single-celled organisms. These insights also bring new perspectives to the levels of selection debate, as well as to discussions of the evolution and nature of multicellularity, and to neo-Darwinian understandings of evolutionary mechanisms. We show how these revisions lead to further complications for microbial classification and the philosophies of systematics and biodiversity. Incorporating microbial insights into the philosophy of biology will challenge many of its assumptions, but also give greater scope and depth to its investigations. (shrink)
The philosophy of biology has existed as a distinct sub-discipline within the philosophy of science for about thirty years. The rapid growth of the field has mirrored that of the biological sciences in the same period. Today the discipline is well represented in the leading journals in philosophy of science, as well as in several specialist journals. There have been two generations of textbooks (see conclusion) and the subject is regularly taught at undergraduate as well as (...) graduate level. The current high profile of the biological sciences and the obvious philosophical issues that arise in fields as diverse as molecular genetics and conservation biology suggest that the philosophy of biology will remain an exciting field of enquiry for the foreseeable future. (shrink)
Professor Grene's work on Aristotle is considered under three headings: teleology, form, and reductionism. A picture of Aristotle's philosophy of biology is sketched which stresses three elements: the place of living activity in the teleological account of the development and nature of organic structures; the functional nature of Aristotelian form; and the autonomy of biology as a natural science with its own basic principles. These elements are aspects of Aristotle's approach to biology with which Professor Grene (...) has expressed sympathy. (shrink)
Biologists study life in its various physical forms, while philosophers of biology seek answers to questions about the nature, purpose, and impact of this research. What permits us to distinguish between living and nonliving things even though both are made of the same minerals? Is the complex structure of organisms proof that a creative force is working its will in the physical universe, or are existing life-forms the random result of an evolutionary process working itself out over eons of (...) time? What moral and social questions arise regarding modern advances in biotechnology? What is more relevant to human nature: genetics or sociocultural influences? Is Darwinism the death-knell of God? These are just some of the vital questions addressed by a distinguished group of philosophers and scientists which includes: Aristotle, Francisco J. Ayala, , Michael Benton, Tom Bethell, Joe Cain, David Castle, Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins, Michael Denton, A.G.N. Flew, Stephen Jay Gould, J.B.S. Haldane, John F. Haught, D. W. E. Hone, James W. Kirchner, James Lovelock, Jane Maienschein, Ernst Mayr, Gregory M. Mikkelson, Leslie Orgal, William Paley, the Prince of Wales, Christopher Pynes, Richard A. Richards, Mark Ridley, Holmes Rolston III, Michael Ruse, Lee Silver, Elliott Sober, Kim Sterelny, Derek Turner, and Edward O. Wilson. This second edition contains material on design without selection, testing macroevolutionary claims, recent biotechnological issues, key ecological concerns, the Gaia hypothesis, genetically modified foods, and the so-called intelligent design movement. (shrink)
The social sciences must be biological ones, owing simply to the fact that they focus on the causes and effects of the behavior of members of a biological species, Homo sapiens. Our improved understanding of biology as a science and of the biological realm should enable us therefore to solve several of the outstanding problems of the philosophy of social science. The solution to these problems leaves most of the social and behavioral sciences pretty much as it finds (...) them, though it does provide improved understanding of their scope, limits, and methods. Key Words: biology natural selection Darwinism models narratives history. (shrink)
An influential position in the philosophy of biology claims that there are no biological laws, since any apparently biological generalization is either too accidental, fact-like or contingent to be named a law, or is simply reducible to physical laws that regulate electrical and chemical interactions taking place between merely physical systems. In the following I will stress a neglected aspect of the debate that emerges directly from the growing importance of mathematical models of biological phenomena. My main aim (...) is to defend, as well as reinforce, the view that there are indeed laws also in biology, and that their difference in stability, contingency or resilience with respect to physical laws is one of degrees, and not of kind . (shrink)
John Dupré explores recent revolutionary developments in biology and considers their relevance for our understanding of human nature and human society. Epigenetics and related areas of molecular biology have eroded the exceptional status of the gene and presented the genome as fully interactive with the rest of the cell. Developmental systems theory provides a space for a vision of evolution that takes full account of the fundamental importance of developmental processes. Dupré shows the importance of microbiology for a (...) proper understanding of the living world, and reveals how it subverts such basic biological assumptions as the organisation of biological kinds on a branching tree of life, and the simple traditional conception of the biological organism. -/- These topics are considered in the context of a view of science as realistically grounded in the natural order, but at the same time as pluralistic and inextricably integrated within a social and normative context. The volume includes a section that recapitulates and expands some of the author's general views on science; a section addressing a range of topics in biology, including the significance of genomics, the nature of the organism and the current status of evolutionary theory; and a section exploring some implications of contemporary biology for humans, for example on the reality or unreality of human races, and the plasticity of human nature. (shrink)
Is life different from the non-living? If so, how? And how, in that case, does biology as the study of living things differ from other sciences? These questions are traced through an exploration of episodes in the history of biology and philosophy. The book begins with Aristotle, then moves on to Descartes comparing his position with that of Harvey. In the eighteenth century the authors consider Buffon and Kant. In the nineteenth century the authors examine the Cuvier-Geoffroy (...) debate, pre-Darwinian geology and natural theology, Darwin and the transition from Darwin to the revival of Mendelism. Two chapters deal with the evolutionary synthesis and such questions as the species problem, the reducibility or otherwise of biology to physics and chemistry, and the problem of biological explanation in terms of function and teleology. The final chapters reflect on the implications of the philosophy of biology for philosophy of science in general. (shrink)
The influence that philosophy of science has had on scientific practice is as controversial as it is undeniable, especially in the case of biology. The dynamic between philosophy and biology as disciplines has developed along two different lines that can be characterized as 'paternal', on the one hand, and more 'fraternal', on the other. The role Popperian principles of demarcation and falsifiability have played in both the systematics community as well as the ongoing evolution-creation debates illustrate (...) these contrasting forms of interdisciplinary engagement, underscoring the influence philosophy of science in shaping our contemporary understanding of biology in the North American context. However, a strict disciplinary distinction between philosophy and science may itself be a false dichotomy that risks hampering future development of the biological sciences. By actively engaging with philosophical considerations as an integral part of their scientific practice, nineteenth-century biologists offer an interesting counterpoint to current trends of overspecialization and provide a model of scientists who avoided extremes of antagonism with, or subservience to, philosophy. (shrink)
Exploring central philosophical issues concerning scientific research in modern experimental biology, this book clarifies the strategies, concepts, reasoning, approaches, tools, models and experimental systems deployed by researchers. It also integrates recent developments in historical scholarship, in particular, the New Experimentalism, making this work of interest to philosophers and historians of science as well as to biological researchers.
In recent years, Europe has become a home to a thriving philosophy of biology research community. As part of the ongoing endeavor to raise the profile of the field on the Old Continent, five research institutions from across Europe § EGenIS, IHPST, KLI, MPIWG, and SEMM - gathered together in the small italian village of Gorino Sullam (Po Delta) in september 2008 to hold the first European Graduate Meeting in the Philosophy of the Life Sciences (EGMPLS-1).
Philosophy of biology is a vibrant and growing field. From initial roots in the metaphysics of species (Ghiselin, Hull), questions about whether biology has laws of nature akin to those of physics (Ruse, Hull), and discussions of teleology and function (Grene 1974, Brandon 1981), the field has grown since the 1970s to include a vast range of topics. Over the last few decades, philosophy has had an important impact on biology, partly through following the model (...) of engagement with science that was set by first-wave philosophers of biology like Marjorie Grene, Morton Beckner, David Hull, William Wimsatt and others. Today some parts of philosophy of biology are indistinguishable from theoretical biology. This is due in part to the impetus provided by second-wave philosophers of biology like James Griesemer, John Beatty, William Bechtel, Robert Brandon, Elisabeth Lloyd, and Elliott Sober. Indeed, philosophers have been instrumental in establishing theoretical biology as a field by collaborating with scientists, publishing in science journals, and by taking up conceptual questions at the heart of the biological enterprise. (shrink)
There are many things that philosophy of biology might be. But, given the existence of a professional philosophy of biology that is arguably a progressive research program and, as such, unrivaled, it makes sense to define philosophy of biology more narrowly than the totality of intersecting concerns biologists and philosophers (let alone other scholars) might have. The reasons for the success of the “new” philosophy of biology remain poorly understood. I reflect on (...) what Dutch and Flemish, and, more generally, European philosophers of biology could do to improve the situation of their discipline locally, regionally, and internationally, paying particular attention to the lessons to be learned from the “Science Wars.”. (shrink)
Academia is subdivided into separate disciplines, most of which are quite discrete. In this review I trace the interactions between two of these disciplines: biology and philosophy of biology. I concentrate on those topics that have the most extensive biological content: function, species, systematics, selection, reduction and development. In the final section of this paper I touch briefly on those issues that biologists and philosophers have addressed that do not have much in the way of biological content.
The aim of this article is to clarify the meaning of a naturalistic position within philosophy of biology, against the background of an alternative view, founded on the basic insights of transcendental philosophy. It is argued that the apparently minimal and neutral constraints naturalism imposes on philosophy of science turn out to involve a quite heavily constraining metaphysics, due to the naturalism’s fundamental neglect of its own perspective. Because of its intrinsic sensitivity to perspectivity and historicity, (...) transcendental philosophy can avoid this type of hidden metaphysics. (shrink)
Elliott Sober is among the leading contemporary contributors to the philosophy of biology. He also has an exceptional ability to explain difficult ideas clearly. He is therefore very well equipped to provide an accessible yet state-of-the-art introduction to the philosophy of biology, and in most respects this optimistic prognosis is justified by the present volume. Focussing on evolutionary biology, Sober provides a general overview of evolutionary theory; a chapter on creationism that serves as a vehicle (...) for the discussion of the evidence for evolution; and chapters on fitness, the units of selection, adaptationism, systematics, and sociobiology. Sober displays a thorough mastery of both the biological issues and the recent philosophical controversies that have surrounded them, and the presentation is always lucid and free from unnecessary technicalities. Anyone not thoroughly conversant with contemporary discussions of evolutionary theory could learn from this book. (shrink)
This paper analyses the actual meaning of a transcendental philosophy of biology, and does so by exploring and actualising the epistemological and metaphysical value of Kant's viewpoint on living systems. It finds inspiration in the Kantian idea of living systems intrinsically resisting objectification, but critically departs from Kant's philosophical solution in as far as it is based in a subjectivist dogmatism. It attempts to overcome this dogmatism, on the one hand by explicitly taking into account the conditions of (...) possibility at the side of the subject, and on the other hand by embedding both the living and the knowing system into an ontology of complexly organized dynamical systems. This paper fits into the transcendental perspective in acknowledging the need to analyse the conditions of knowability, prior to the contents of what is known. But it also contributes to an expansion and an actualisation of the issue of transcendentality itself by considering the conditions of possibility at the side of the object as intrinsically linked to the conditions of possibility at the side of the subject. (shrink)
This paper focuses on a running dispute between Werner Callebaut’s naturalistic view and Filip Kolen and Gertrudis Van de Vijver’s transcendentalist view on the nature of philosophy of biology and the relation of this discipline to biological sciences. It is argued that, despite differences in opinion, both positions agree that philosophy of biology’s ultimate goal is to ‘move’ biology or at least be ‘meaningful’ to it. In order to make this goal clear and effective, more (...) is needed than a polarizing debate which hardly touches upon biology. Therefore, a redirection in discussion is suggested towards a reflection on the possibilities of incorporating philosophy in interdisciplinary research, and on finding concrete research questions which are of interest both to the philosopher and to the biologist. (shrink)
Literally speaking, "Philosophy of biology" is a rather old expression. William Whewell coined it in 1840, at the very time he introduced the expression "philosophy of science". Whewell was fond of creating neologisms, like Auguste Comte, his French counterpart in the field of the philosophical reflection about science. Historians of science know that a few years earlier, in 1834, Whewell had generated a small scandal when he proposed the word "scientist" as a general term by which "the (...) students of the knowledge of the material world" could describe themselves, and distinguish themselves from artists. The term "philosopher", Whewell argued, was too wide. A new generic term, more or less equivalent to the French term "savant", was needed in order to prevent the disintegration of science that seemed to flow from its specialization in modern times.1 When Whewell first introduced the terms "philosophy of science" and "philosophy of biology" in his 1840 Philosophy of the inductive sciences, the latter term was merely a special branch of "philosophy of science". The expression "philosophy of science" itself had two justifications: firstly, this phrase expressed the idea that "science" remained cognitively coherent enough to justify a critical enquiry into its methodological unity and its foundation; secondly, the phrase "philosophy of science" was required in order to distinguish a properly "philosophical" enquiry from a "historical" approach to science. Although Whewell's 1840 Philosophy of the inductive sciences 2 had approximately the same chapter structure as his 1837 History of the Inductive Sciences 3 (that is, a series of chapters successively devoted to the concept of science in general, and although there was considerable overlap between the contents of the two books, then to particular sciences), its theoretical purpose was different. Clearly, Whewell was not willing to confuse the genres of history and philosophy as Auguste Comte had done in his 1830 Cours de philosophie positive.4 Note also that the word "biology" was still extremely rare in English when Whewell used it in 1840. In fact, Whewell's 1837 History of the Inductive Sciences does not make use of the word "biology": Whewell successively examines "botany", "zoology", "physiology" and "comparative antomy" as special branches of "analytico-classificatory science", then discusses palaeontology as a special case of the "palaeo-etiological sciences". Three years later, in his Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, Whewell does use "biology" as a generic term for all the sciences dealing with life. The various sciences which were separately examined in the previous book are now collectively considered. Furthermore, the main philosophical problem raised by biology is its dual nature: biology is both nomological and a historical science. Modern philosophers of biology are generally unaware of the story of the origins of the expression "philosophy of biology", but Whewell's dual theoretical nature of biology is still a major concern for modern "philosophy of biology". (shrink)
Links relating to the history and philosophy of biology, assembled by Roberta L. Millstein: reference works, societies, journals, historians and philosophers of biology with papers online, blogs, other resources in the history and philosophy of biology.