Ontic and Epistemic Differentiation: Mechanistic Problems for Microbiology and Biology

Foundations of Science:1-23 (forthcoming)
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Abstract

Species are considered the basic unit of biological classification and evolution. Hence, they are used as a benchmark in several fields, although the ontological status of such a category has always been a matter of debate. This paper aims to discuss the problem of the definition of species within the new mechanistic approach. Nevertheless, the boundary between entities, activities, and mechanisms remains difficult to establish and always requires an analysis of what is meant by explanation. As a case study, the paper describes the debate concerning the species category by considering different kingdoms: Animals, Bacteria, and Fungi. The inherently biological differences between those groups prevent the use of a single, universally applicable concept of species that could fit the mechanisms responsible for the variability present in these kingdoms. The same issue is encountered within each group, as highlighted through a focus on mammals and microbes. This controversy has given rise to opposite approaches, namely: monism, which looks for a single definition that might account for all species, and pluralism, which admits that different groups of organisms require somewhat different definitions. In order to develop an adequate definition of species, we propose to apply a new mechanistic framework, which considers the ontic-epistemic dimensions of scientific explanation in close parallel. The apt correlation between epistemic and the ontic aspects highlights the way in which the concept of species and the reference to data are strictly co-determined. This suggests that the concept of species is better understandable within a dual ontic-epistemic approach.

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Michał Oleksowicz
Nicolaus Copernicus University

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References found in this work

A Radical Solution to the Species Problem.Michael T. Ghiselin - 1974 - Systematic Zoology 23 (4):536–544.
The Architecture of Complexity.Herbert A. Simon - 1962 - Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 106.
A matter of individuality.David L. Hull - 1978 - Philosophy of Science 45 (3):335-360.
Species.Philip Kitcher - 1984 - Philosophy of Science 51 (2):308-333.
Role functions, mechanisms, and hierarchy.Carl F. Craver - 2001 - Philosophy of Science 68 (1):53-74.

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