Biological Reductionism and World View

Russian Studies in Philosophy 19 (1):49-68 (1980)

The timeliness of the problem of reduction is due above all to the successes of application of the techniques of the exact sciences in biology. To the extent that molecular biology "gets down to" the initial, fundamental mechanisms of the processes of life, it is impossible for it to remain purely in the realm of statement of facts; it cannot but affect methodological principles of the study of life. "The history of biology clearly demonstrates the striking regularity with which the problem of reductionism arises each time biological knowledge advances to a new level." The counterposing of mechanism and vitalism, elementarism and organicism, etc., was replaced by new forms of methodological discussion born of the achievements of experimental knowledge of life and the demands that this be formulated into theory. To separate the principle of reduction, productive in current biological research, from biological reductionism based on the elevation of this principle to an absolute is the meaning of the current struggle against mechanistic trends in biology. The mechanicism of the present day rests primarily on the productiveness of the methods of physical chemistry in adding to knowledge of life; and therefore when people speak of the problem of reductionism, discussion of the potentials of the investigation of life by molecular biology and the limits of those potentials takes pride of place
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DOI 10.2753/RSP1061-1967190149
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