Are bio-ontologies metaphysical theories?

Synthese 199 (3-4):11587-11608 (2021)
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Bio-ontologies are digital frameworks for handling biological and biomedical data. They consist of theoretical entities and relations with explicitly defined logical structures and precise definitions, whose purpose is to provide a shared language for representing information to be distributed and integrated across diverse scientific contexts. It is tempting to view bio-ontologies as clear and formal expressions of a scientific community’s ontological commitments about their domain of inquiry, and to view their integration as tantamount to the metaphysical unification of science that some philosophers have envisaged. However, I argue that the local, practical, social and technological factors that influence their design prevent us from straightforwardly reading metaphysical conclusions from them. I discuss these complications and suggest how they can be overcome, revealing more general lessons for the development of a well-founded scientific metaphysics.



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Oliver Lean
University of Bristol

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