Biology and Philosophy 35 (3):1-26 (2020)

Davide Serpico
Jagiellonian University
This paper challenges the common assumption that some phenotypic traits are quantitative while others are qualitative. The distinction between these two kinds of traits is widely influential in biological and biomedical research as well as in scientific education and communication. This is probably due to both historical and epistemological reasons. However, the quantitative/qualitative distinction involves a variety of simplifications on the genetic causes of phenotypic variability and on the development of complex traits. Here, I examine three cases from the life sciences that show inconsistencies in the distinction: Mendelian traits, Mendelian diseases, and polygenic mental disorders. I show that these traits can be framed both quantitatively and qualitatively depending, for instance, on the methods through which they are investigated and on specific epistemic purposes. This suggests that the received view of quantitative and qualitative traits has a limited heuristic power—limited to some local contexts or to the specific methodologies adopted. Throughout the paper, I provide directions for framing phenotypes beyond the quantitative/qualitative distinction. I conclude by pointing at the necessity of developing a principled characterisation of what phenotypic traits, in general, are.
Keywords Quantitative traits   Qualitative traits   Mendelian diseases   Genetic liability   Thresholds   Character states  Quantitative genetics  Qualitative genetics
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DOI 10.1007/s10539-020-09750-6
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References found in this work BETA

Genetics and Philosophy : An Introduction.Paul Griffiths & Karola Stotz - 2013 - Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Causes That Make a Difference.C. Kenneth Waters - 2007 - Journal of Philosophy 104 (11):551-579.
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Citations of this work BETA

Genetics on the Neurodiversity Spectrum: Genetic, Phenotypic and Endophenotypic Continua in Autism and ADHD.Polaris Koi - 2021 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 89 (October 2021):52–62.

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