What was classical genetics?

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 35 (4):783-809 (2004)
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Abstract

I present an account of classical genetics to challenge theory-biased approaches in the philosophy of science. Philosophers typically assume that scientific knowledge is ultimately structured by explanatory reasoning and that research programs in well-established sciences are organized around efforts to fill out a central theory and extend its explanatory range. In the case of classical genetics, philosophers assume that the knowledge was structured by T. H. Morgan’s theory of transmission and that research throughout the later 1920s, 30s, and 40s was organized around efforts to further validate, develop, and extend this theory. I show that classical genetics was structured by an integration of explanatory reasoning and investigative strategies . The investigative strategies, which have been overlooked in historical and philosophical accounts, were as important as the so-called laws of Mendelian genetics. By the later 1920s, geneticists of the Morgan school were no longer organizing research around the goal of explaining inheritance patterns; rather, they were using genetics to investigate a range of biological phenomena that extended well beyond the explanatory domain of transmission theories. Theory-biased approaches in history and philosophy of science fail to reveal the overall structure of scientific knowledge and obscure the way it functions.Author Keywords: Investigation; Genetic approach; Structure of knowledge; Classical genetics.

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C. Kenneth Waters
University of Calgary