When imprecision is a good thing, or how imprecise concepts facilitate integration in biology

Biology and Philosophy 35 (6):1-21 (2020)
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Contrary to the common-sense view and positivist aspirations, scientific concepts are often imprecise. Many of these concepts are ambiguous, vague, or have an under-specified meaning. In this paper, I discuss how imprecise concepts promote integration in biology and thus benefit science. Previous discussions of this issue focus on the concepts of molecular gene and evolutionary novelty. The concept of molecular gene helps biologists integrate explanatory practices, while the notion of evolutionary novelty helps them integrate research questions into an interdisciplinary problem New directions in the philosophy of science, Springer, Dordrecht, 2014). In what follows, I compare molecular gene and evolutionary novelty to another imprecise concept, namely biological lineage. This concept promotes two other types of scientific integration: it helps biologists integrate theoretical principles and methodologies into different areas of biology. The concept of biological lineage facilitates these types of integration because it is broad and under-specified in ways that the concepts of molecular gene and evolutionary novelty are not. Hence, I use the concept of biological lineage as a case study to reveal types of integration that have been overlooked by philosophers. This case study also shows that even very imprecise concepts can be beneficial to scientific practice.



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Celso Neto
University of Exeter

Citations of this work

‘Species’ without species.Aaron Novick & W. Ford Doolittle - 2021 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 87 (C):72-80.
Gene.Hans-Jörg Rheinberger - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Ian Hacking.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas Samuel Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Otto Neurath.
Two Dogmas of Empiricism.Willard V. O. Quine - 1951 - Philosophical Review 60 (1):20–43.
The origin of species.Charles Darwin - 1859 - New York: Norton. Edited by Philip Appleman.

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