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Evolutionary Developmental Biology and the Limits of Philosophical Accounts of Mechanistic Explanation

In P.-A. Braillard & C. Malaterre (eds.), Explanation in Biology: An Enquiry into the Diversity of Explanatory Patterns in the Life Sciences. Springer. pp. 135–173 (2015)

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  1. Structural Powers and the Homeodynamic Unity of Organisms.Christopher J. Austin & Anna Marmodoro - 2017 - In William M. R. Simpson, Robert C. Koons & Nicholas J. Teh (eds.), Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Science. Routledge. pp. 169-184.
    Although they are continually compositionally reconstituted and reconfigured, organisms nonetheless persist as ontologically unified beings over time – but in virtue of what? A common answer is: in virtue of their continued possession of the capacity for morphological invariance which persists through, and in spite of, their mereological alteration. While we acknowledge that organisms‟ capacity for the “stability of form” – homeostasis - is an important aspect of their diachronic unity, we argue that this capacity is derived from, and grounded (...)
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  • Realization in Biology?Sergio Balari & Guillermo Lorenzo - 2019 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 41 (1):5.
    It is widely assumed that functional and dispositional properties are not identical to their physical base, but that there is some kind of asymmetrical ontological dependence between them. In this regard, a popular idea is that the former are realized by the latter, which, under the non-identity assumption, is generally understood to be a non-causal, constitutive relation. In this paper we examine two of the most widely accepted approaches to realization, the so-called ‘flat view’ and the ‘dimensioned view’, and we (...)
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  • Chances and Propensities in Evo-Devo.Laura Nuño de la Rosa & Cristina Villegas - forthcoming - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.
    While the notion of chance has been central in discussions over the probabilistic nature of natural selection and genetic drift, its role in the production of variants on which populational sampling takes place has received much less philosophical attention. This article discusses the concept of chance in evolution in the light of contemporary work in evo-devo. We distinguish different levels at which randomness and chance can be defined in this context, and argue that recent research on variability and evolvability demands (...)
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  • Dispositional Properties in Evo-Devo.Christopher J. Austin & Laura Nuño de la Rosa - 2018 - In Laura Nuño de la Rosa & G. Müller (eds.), Evolutionary Developmental Biology. Cham, Switzerland: Springer.
    In identifying intrinsic molecular chance and extrinsic adaptive pressures as the only causally relevant factors in the process of evolution, the theoretical perspective of the Modern Synthesis had a major impact on the perceived tenability of an ontology of dispositional properties. However, since the late 1970s, an increasing number of evolutionary biologists have challenged the descriptive and explanatory adequacy of this “chance alone, extrinsic only” understanding of evolutionary change. Because morphological studies of homology, convergence, and teratology have revealed a space (...)
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  • Mechanistic Explanation in Systems Biology: Cellular Networks.Dana Matthiessen - 2017 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 68 (1):1-25.
    It is argued that once biological systems reach a certain level of complexity, mechanistic explanations provide an inadequate account of many relevant phenomena. In this article, I evaluate such claims with respect to a representative programme in systems biological research: the study of regulatory networks within single-celled organisms. I argue that these networks are amenable to mechanistic philosophy without need to appeal to some alternate form of explanation. In particular, I claim that we can understand the mathematical modelling techniques of (...)
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  • Genidentity and Biological Processes.Thomas Pradeu - 2018 - In Daniel J. Nicholson & John Dupre (eds.), Everything Flows: Towards a Processual Philosophy of Biology. Oxford University Press.
    A crucial question for a process view of life is how to identify a process and how to follow it through time. The genidentity view can contribute decisively to this project. It says that the identity through time of an entity X is given by a well-identified series of continuous states of affairs. Genidentity helps address the problem of diachronic identity in the living world. This chapter describes the centrality of the concept of genidentity for David Hull and proposes an (...)
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  • Do We Need a ‘Theory’ of Development?Ingo Brigandt - 2016 - Biology and Philosophy 31 (4):603-617.
    Edited by Alessandro Minelli and Thomas Pradeu, Towards a Theory of Development gathers essays by biologists and philosophers, which display a diversity of theoretical perspectives. The discussions not only cover the state of art, but broaden our vision of what development includes and provide pointers for future research. Interestingly, all contributors agree that explanations should not just be gene-centered, and virtually none use design and other engineering metaphors to articulate principles of cellular and organismal organization. I comment in particular on (...)
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  • Recent Work in The Philosophy of Biology.Christopher J. Austin - 2017 - Analysis 77 (2):anx032.
    The biological sciences have always proven a fertile ground for philosophical analysis, one from which has grown a rich tradition stemming from Aristotle and flowering with Darwin. And although contemporary philosophy is increasingly becoming conceptually entwined with the study of the empirical sciences with the data of the latter now being regularly utilised in the establishment and defence of the frameworks of the former, a practice especially prominent in the philosophy of physics, the development of that tradition hasn’t received the (...)
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  • Systems Biology and the Integration of Mechanistic Explanation and Mathematical Explanation.Ingo Brigandt - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):477-492.
    The paper discusses how systems biology is working toward complex accounts that integrate explanation in terms of mechanisms and explanation by mathematical models—which some philosophers have viewed as rival models of explanation. Systems biology is an integrative approach, and it strongly relies on mathematical modeling. Philosophical accounts of mechanisms capture integrative in the sense of multilevel and multifield explanations, yet accounts of mechanistic explanation have failed to address how a mathematical model could contribute to such explanations. I discuss how mathematical (...)
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  • Evo-Devo: A Science of Dispositions.Christopher Austin - 2017 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 7 (2):373-389.
    Evolutionary developmental biology represents a paradigm shift in the understanding of the ontogenesis and evolutionary progression of the denizens of the natural world. Given the empirical successes of the evo-devo framework, and its now widespread acceptance, a timely and important task for the philosophy of biology is to critically discern the ontological commitments of that framework and assess whether and to what extent our current metaphysical models are able to accommodate them. In this paper, I argue that one particular model (...)
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  • A Biologically Informed Hylomorphism.Christopher J. Austin - 2017 - In William M. R. Simpson, Robert C. Koons & Nicholas J. Teh (eds.), Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Science. Routledge. pp. 185-210.
    Although contemporary metaphysics has recently undergone a neo-Aristotelian revival wherein dispositions, or capacities are now commonplace in empirically grounded ontologies, being routinely utilised in theories of causality and modality, a central Aristotelian concept has yet to be given serious attention – the doctrine of hylomorphism. The reason for this is clear: while the Aristotelian ontological distinction between actuality and potentiality has proven to be a fruitful conceptual framework with which to model the operation of the natural world, the distinction between (...)
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  • The Ontology of Organisms: Mechanistic Modules or Patterned Processes?Christopher Austin - 2016 - Biology and Philosophy 31 (5):639-662.
    Though the realm of biology has long been under the philosophical rule of the mechanistic magisterium, recent years have seen a surprisingly steady rise in the usurping prowess of process ontology. According to its proponents, theoretical advances in the contemporary science of evo-devo have afforded that ontology a particularly powerful claim to the throne: in that increasingly empirically confirmed discipline, emergently autonomous, higher-order entities are the reigning explanantia. If we are to accept the election of evo-devo as our best conceptualisation (...)
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  • From Molecules to Behavior and the Clinic: Integration in Chronobiology.William Bechtel - 2012 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 44 (4):493-502.
    Chronobiology, especially the study of circadian rhythms, provides a model scientific field in which philosophers can study how investigators from a variety of disciplines working at different levels of organization are each contributing to a multi-level account of the responsible mechanism. I focus on how the framework of mechanistic explanation integrates research designed to decompose the mechanism with efforts directed at recomposition that relies especially on computation models. I also examine how recently the integration has extended beyond basic research to (...)
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  • From Molecules to Behavior and the Clinic: Integration in Chronobiology.William Bechtel - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):493-502.
    Chronobiology, especially the study of circadian rhythms, provides a model scientific field in which philosophers can study how investigators from a variety of disciplines working at different levels of organization are each contributing to a multi-level account of the responsible mechanism. I focus on how the framework of mechanistic explanation integrates research designed to decompose the mechanism with efforts directed at recomposition that relies especially on computation models. I also examine how recently the integration has extended beyond basic research to (...)
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