Philosophies of particular biological research programs

Biological Theory 1 (2):182-187 (2006)
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There is a trend within philosophy of biology to concentrate on questions that are strongly related to particular biological research programs rather than on the general scope of the field and its relation to other sciences. Projects of the latter kind, of course, are followed as well but will not be the topic of this review. Shifting the focus to particular research programs reflects philosophers’ increased interest in knowledge of, and contribution to, actual biological research, which is organized in such programs. It is accompanied by the increasing enthusiasm of biologists to involve philosophers in the conceptual work of theoretical biology. I concentrate on the philosophies of four biological research programs, three of which are devoted to evolutionary biology, which is still the main field of interest among philosophers of biology: adaptationism, EvoDevo, and the developmental systems approach. In addition, a short sketch of the newly emerging philosophy of systems biology is given. Several lines of philosophical inquiry can be found in all of the fields considered here: philosophy contributes to the conceptual development of biological research programs, it analyzes structures and delineations of particular research programs, and sometimes it is involved in a comparative assessment of biological programs as well. Philosophical projects that start from the level of a particular research program may give rise to a bottom-up perspective on biology and allow for an integrative view of biological research. This may open up the opportunity to tackle “larger” questions again in an altered and fruitful manner.



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Ulrich Krohs
University of Münster