Philosophy 91 (2):153-182 (2016)

Life poses a threat to materialism. To understand the phenomena of animate nature, we make use of a teleological form of explanation that is peculiar to biology, of explanations in terms of what I call the ‘vital categories’ – and this holds even for accounts of underlying physico-chemical ‘mechanisms’. The materialist claims that this teleological form of explanation does not capture what is metaphysically fundamental, whereas her preferred physical form of explanation does. In this essay, I do three things. (1) I argue that the ‘vital categories’, such as life form and life-process, do not reduce to the ‘physical categories’ and show that there are no grounds for the materialist's metaphysically limiting claim; (2) I sketch a positive view on how vital and physical explanations can both apply to a given phenomenon, and on how they interrelate; and (3) I show that this view meshes nicely with evolutionary theory, despite being committed to a form of ‘biological essentialism’.
Keywords Life  Materialism  Reductionism  Essentialism  Biological essentialism
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DOI 10.1017/s0031819116000024
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References found in this work BETA

Resurrecting Biological Essentialism.Michael Devitt - 2008 - Philosophy of Science 75 (3):344-382.
Living Causes.John Dupré - 2013 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 87 (1):19-37.
The Creation of the Essentialism Story: An Exercise in Metahistory.Mary P. Winsor - 2006 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 28 (2):149 - 174.
I—John Dupré: Living Causes.John Dupré - 2013 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 87 (1):19-37.
From Molecules to Systems: The Importance of Looking Both Ways.Alexander Powell & John Dupré - 2009 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 40 (1):54-64.

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