Biological Atomism and Cell Theory


Authors
Daniel J. Nicholson
Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research
Abstract
Biological atomism postulates that all life is composed of elementary and indivisible vital units. The activity of a living organism is thus conceived as the result of the activities and interactions of its elementary constituents, each of which individually already exhibits all the attributes proper to life. This paper surveys some of the key episodes in the history of biological atomism, and situates cell theory within this tradition. The atomistic foundations of cell theory are subsequently dissected and discussed, together with the theory’s conceptual development and eventual consolidation. This paper then examines the major criticisms that have been waged against cell theory, and argues that these too can be interpreted through the prism of biological atomism as attempts to relocate the true biological atom away from the cell to a level of organization above or below it. Overall, biological atomism provides a useful perspective through which to examine the history and philosophy of cell theory, and it also opens up a new way of thinking about the epistemic decomposition of living organisms that significantly departs from the physicochemical reductionism of mechanistic biology.
Keywords Biological Atomism  Cell Theory  Organismal Theory  Reductionism  Cell
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2010.07.009
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References found in this work BETA

The Century of the Gene.Evelyn Fox Keller - 2001 - Journal of the History of Biology 34 (3):613-615.
The Concept of Mechanism in Biology.Daniel J. Nicholson - 2012 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (1):152-163.
Cell Theory, Specificity, and Reproduction, 1837–1870.Staffan Müller-Wille - 2010 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 41 (3):225-231.
Form and Function: A Contribution to the History of Animal Morphology.E. S. Russell - 1916 - Journal of the History of Biology 17 (1):151-151.

View all 18 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Rethinking Woodger’s Legacy in the Philosophy of Biology.Daniel J. Nicholson & Richard Gawne - 2014 - Journal of the History of Biology 47 (2):243-292.
Cell Theory, Specificity, and Reproduction, 1837–1870.Staffan Müller-Wille - 2010 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 41 (3):225-231.
Cell Theory, Specificity, and Reproduction, 1837–1870.Staffan Müller-Wille - 2010 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 41 (3):225-231.
A Capital Scot: Microscopes and Museums in Robert E. Grant's Zoology.Tom Quick - 2016 - British Journal for the History of Science 49 (2):173-204.

View all 7 citations / Add more citations

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