Tero Ijäs
University of Helsinki
Rami Koskinen
University of Vienna
This paper analyzes the notion of possibility in biology and demonstrates how synthetic biology can provide understanding on the modal dimension of biological systems. Among modal concepts, biological possibility has received surprisingly little explicit treatment in the philosophy of science. The aim of this paper is to argue for the importance of the notion of biological possibility by showing how it provides both a philosophically and biologically fruitful category as well as introducing a new practically grounded way for its assessment. More precisely, we argue that synthetic biology can provide tools to scientifically anchor reasoning about biological possibilities. Two prominent strategies for this are identified and analyzed: the design of functionally new-to-nature systems and the redesign of naturally occurring systems and their parts. These approaches allow synthetic biologists to explore systems that are not normally evolutionarily accessible and draw modal inferences that extend in scope beyond their token realizations. Subsequently, these results in synthetic biology can also be relevant for discussions on evolutionary contingency, providing new methods and insight to the study of various sources of unactualized possibilities in biology.
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1007/s13194-021-00364-7
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Translate to english
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 62,343
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

From a Logical Point of View.W. V. O. Quine - 1953 - Harvard University Press.
On the Origin of Species.Charles Darwin - 2008 - Oxford University Press.
Philosophy of Biology.Peter Godfrey-Smith - 2013 - Princeton University Press.
Wonderful Life; The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History.Stephen Jay Gould - 1992 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 23 (2):359-360.

View all 26 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Dreaming of a Universal Biology: Synthetic Biology and the Origins of Life.Massimiliano Simons - 2021 - Hyle: International Journal for Philosophy of Chemistry 27:91-116.
Synthetic Biology Between Technoscience and Thing Knowledge.Axel Gelfert - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (2):141-149.
Creating Parts That Allow for Rational Design: Synthetic Biology and the Problem of Context-Sensitivity.Stephan Güttinger - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (2):199-207.
Basic Science Through Engineering? Synthetic Modeling and the Idea of Biology-Inspired Engineering.Tarja Knuuttila & Andrea Loettgers - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (2):158-169.


Added to PP index

Total views
7 ( #1,034,562 of 2,445,381 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
7 ( #102,733 of 2,445,381 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes