Is life different from the non-living? If so, how? And how, in that case, does biology as the study of living things differ from other sciences? These questions are traced through an exploration of episodes in the history of biology and philosophy. The book begins with Aristotle, then moves on to Descartes, comparing his position with that of Harvey. In the eighteenth century the authors consider Buffon and Kant. In the nineteenth century the authors examine the Cuvier-Geoffroy (...) debate, pre-Darwinian geology and natural theology, Darwin and the transition from Darwin to the revival of Mendelism. Two chapters deal with the evolutionary synthesis and such questions as the species problem, the reducibility or otherwise of biology to physics and chemistry, and the problem of biological explanation in terms of function and teleology. The final chapters reflect on the implications of the philosophy of biology for philosophy of science in general. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to call the attention, especially that of feminists, to the current progress in biology. It appears gender studies still confine themselves to outdated ideas of sex chromosomes like XX, XY (§10). However, science has been making progress. It no longer sticks to such matters as XX, XY. Its interest is now in Sry, a kind of gene (§11), and MIS, a kind of sex hormone (§14). Abnormalities of sex chromosomes are no longer evidence (...) to deny the biological approaches, for example. We shed light on this fact, putting gender studies in the context of chronologies of science as well (§§2-9). (shrink)
Philosophers have committed sins while studying science, it is said – philosophy of science focused on physics to the detriment of biology, reconstructed idealizations of scientific episodes rather than attending to historical details, and focused on theories and concepts to the detriment of experiments. Recent generations of philosophers of science have tried to atone for these sins, and by the 1980s the exculpation was in full swing. Marcel Weber’s Philosophy of Experimental Biology is a zenith mea culpa for (...) philosophy of science: it carefully describes several historical examples from twentieth century biology to address both ‘old’ philosophical topics, like reductionism, inference, and realism, and ‘new’ topics, like discovery, models, and norms. Biology, experiments, history – at last, philosophy of science, free of sin. (shrink)
Beginning in the 1940s, mass production of antibiotics involved the industrial-scale growth of microorganisms to harvest their metabolic products. Unfortunately, the use of antibiotics selects for resistance at answering scale. The turn to the study of antibiotic resistance in microbiology and medicine is examined, focusing on the realization that individual therapies targeted at single pathogens in individual bodies are environmental events affecting bacterial evolution far beyond bodies. In turning to biological manifestations of antibiotic use, sciences fathom material outcomes of their (...) own previous concepts. Archival work with stored soil and clinical samples produces a record described here as ‘the biology of history’: the physical registration of human history in bacterial life. This account thus foregrounds the importance of understanding both the materiality of history and the historicity of matter in theories and concepts of life today. (shrink)
The paper discusses how systems biology is working toward complex accounts that integrate explanation in terms of mechanisms and explanation by mathematical models—which some philosophers have viewed as rival models of explanation. Systems biology is an integrative approach, and it strongly relies on mathematical modeling. Philosophical accounts of mechanisms capture integrative in the sense of multilevel and multifield explanations, yet accounts of mechanistic explanation have failed to address how a mathematical model could contribute to such explanations. I discuss (...) how mathematical equations can be explanatorily relevant. Several cases from systems biology are discussed to illustrate the interplay between mechanistic research and mathematical modeling, and I point to questions about qualitative phenomena, where quantitative models are still indispensable to the explanation. Systems biology shows that a broader philosophical conception of mechanisms is needed, which takes into account functional-dynamical aspects, interaction in complex networks with feedback loops, system-wide functional properties such as distributed functionality and robustness, and a mechanism’s ability to respond to perturbations. I offer general conclusions for philosophical accounts of explanation. (shrink)
Kant famously identified 'What is man?' as the fundamental question that encompasses the whole of philosophy. Yet surprisingly, there has been no concerted effort amongst Kant scholars to examine Kant's actual philosophy of man. This book, which is inspired by, and part of, the recent movement that focuses on the empirical dimension of Kant's works, is the first sustained attempt to extract from his writings on biology, anthropology and history an account of the human sciences, their underlying unity, (...) their presuppositions as well as their methodology. In exploring his philosophical and epistemological foundation of the human sciences, it reveals an unexpected picture of Kant, a picture of a thinker who is profoundly attentive to the diversity, detail and complexity of the human world. (shrink)
The current picture of the history of taxonomy incorporates A. J. Cain's claim that Linnaeus strove to apply the logical method of definition taught by medieval followers of Aristotle. Cain's argument does not stand up to critical examination. Contrary to some published statements, there is no evidence that Linnaeus ever studied logic. His use of the words “genus” and “species” ruined the meaning they had in logic, and “essential” meant to him merely “taxonomically useful.” The essentialism story, a narrative (...) that has most pre-Darwinian biologists steeped in the world view of Plato and Aristotle, is ill-founded and improbable. (shrink)
Genes and the Agents of Life undertakes to rethink the place of the individual in the biological sciences, drawing parallels with the cognitive and social sciences. Genes, organisms, and species are all agents of life but how are each of these conceptualized within genetics, developmental biology, evolutionary biology, and systematics? The book includes highly accessible discussions of genetic encoding, species and natural kinds, and pluralism above the levels of selection, drawing on work from across the biological sciences. The (...) book is a companion to the author's Boundaries of the Mind, also available from Cambridge, where the focus is the cognitive sciences. The book will appeal to a broad range of professionals and students in philosophy, biology, and the history of science. (shrink)
Symbiosis plays a fundamental role in contemporary biology, as well as in recent thinking in philosophy of biology. The discovery of the importance and universality of symbiotic associations has brought new light to old debates in the field, including issues about the concept of biological individuality. An important aspect of these debates has been the formulation of the hologenome concept of evolution, the notion that holobionts are units of natural selection in evolution. This review examines the philosophical assumptions (...) that underlie recent proposal of the hologenome concept of evolution, and traces those debates back in time to their historical origins, to the moment when the connection between the topics of symbiosis and biological individuality first caught the attention of biologists. The review is divided in two parts. The first part explores the historical origins of the connection between the notion of symbiosis and the concept of biological individuality, and emphasizes the role of A. de Bary, R. Pound, A. Schneider and C. Merezhkowsky in framing the debate. The second part examines the hologenome concept of evolution and explores four parallelisms between contemporary debates and the debates presented in the first part of the essay, arguing that the different debates raised by the hologenome concept were already present in the literature. I suggest that the novelty of the hologenome concept of evolution lies in the wider appreciation of the importance of symbiosis for maintaining life on Earth as we know it. Finally, I conclude by suggesting the importance of exploring the connections among contemporary biology, philosophy of biology and history of biology in order to gain a better understanding of contemporary biology. (shrink)
Drawing on work of the past decade, this volume brings together articles from the philosophy, history, and sociology of science, and many other branches of the biological sciences. The volume delves into the latest theoretical controversies as well as burning questions of contemporary social importance. The issues considered include the nature of evolutionary theory, biology and ethics, the challenge from religion, and the social implications of biology today (in particular the Human Genome Project).
My goals in this paper are twofold: to outline the refashioning of amateur and professional roles in life science in late Victorian Yorkshire, and to provide a revised historiography of the relationship between amateurs and professionals in this era. Some historical treatments of this relationship assume that amateurs were demoralized by the advances of laboratory science, and so ceased to contribute and were left behind by the autonomous "new biology." Despite this view, I show that many amateurs played a (...) vital part in the construction of a professional academic community in urban Yorkshire, and then continued to collaborate with the laboratory-based biologists. The key to any analysis of the relationship between amateurs and professionals is the great variety of amateur identities and practices in Victorian Yorkshire. The amateur-professional rift fallacy arose because laboratory biologists fashioned an identity in conscious opposition to a particular type of amateur: an ideal that belied an array of cooperative relationships. As naturalists refashioned their roles and identities in light of the changes within academe and without, debates about the practice and place of life science took place as often among amateurs as between professionals and amateurs. (shrink)
Biology in the Critical Philosophy and the Opus postumum Hein van den Berg. Parts of Chap. 2 have been previously published in Hein van den Berg (2011), “ Kant's Conception of Proper Science.” Synthese 183 (1): 7–26. Parts of Chap.
Kenneth F. Schaffner compares the practice of biological and medical research and shows how traditional topics in philosophy of science--such as the nature of theories and of explanation--can illuminate the life sciences. While Schaffner pays some attention to the conceptual questions of evolutionary biology, his chief focus is on the examples that immunology, human genetics, neuroscience, and internal medicine provide for examinations of the way scientists develop, examine, test, and apply theories. Although traditional philosophy of science has regarded scientific (...) discovery--the questions of creativity in science--as a subject for psychological rather than philosophical study, Schaffner argues that recent work in cognitive science and artificial intelligence enables researchers to rationally analyze the nature of discovery. As a philosopher of science who holds an M.D., he has examined biomedical work from the inside and uses detailed examples from the entire range of the life sciences to support the semantic approach to scientific theories, addressing whether there are "laws" in the life sciences as there are in the physical sciences. Schaffner's novel use of philosophical tools to deal with scientific research in all of its complexity provides a distinctive angle on basic questions of scientific evaluation and explanation. (shrink)
Traditionally, Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) is largely identified with his analysis of the structure of scientific revolutions. Here, we contribute to a minority tradition in the Kuhn literature by interpreting the history of evolutionary biology through the prism of the entire historical developmental model of sciences that he elaborates in The Structure. This research not only reveals a certain match between this model and the history of evolutionary biology but, more importantly, (...) also sheds new light on several episodes in that history, and particularly on the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859), the construction of the modern evolutionary synthesis, the chronic discontent with it, and the latest expression of that discontent, called the extended evolutionary synthesis. Lastly, we also explain why this kind of analysis hasn’t been done before. (shrink)
Traditionally, Thomas S. Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions is largely identified with his analysis of the structure of scientific revolutions. Here, we contribute to a minority tradition in the Kuhn literature by interpreting the history of evolutionary biology through the prism of the entire historical developmental model of sciences that he elaborates in The Structure. This research not only reveals a certain match between this model and the history of evolutionary biology but, more importantly, also (...) sheds new light on several episodes in that history, and particularly on the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, the construction of the modern evolutionary synthesis, the chronic discontent with it, and the latest expression of that discontent, called the extended evolutionary synthesis. Lastly, we also explain why this kind of analysis hasn’t been done before. (shrink)
Recent historiography of 19th century biology supports the revision of two traditional doctrines about the history of biology. First, the most important and widespread biological debate around the time of Darwin was not evolution versus creation, but biological functionalism versus structuralism. Second, the idealist and typological structuralist theories of the time were not particularly anti-evolutionary. Typological theories provided argumentation and evidence that was crucial to the refutation of Natural Theological creationism. The contrast between functionalist and structuralist approaches (...) to biology continues today, and the historical misunderstanding of 19th century typological biology may be one of its effects. This historical case can shed light on current controversies regarding the relevance of developmental biology to evolution. (shrink)
Reductionism--understanding complex processes by breaking them into simpler elements--dominates scientific thinking around the world and has certainly proved a powerful tool, leading to major discoveries in every field of science. But reductionism can be taken too far, especially in the life sciences, where sociobiological thinking has bordered on biological determinism. Thus popular science writers such as Richard Dawkins, author of the highly influential The Selfish Gene, can write that human beings are just "robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish (...) molecules known as genes." Indeed, for many in science, genes have become the fundamental unit for understanding human existence: genes determine every aspect of our lives, from personal success to existential despair: genes for health and illness, genes for criminality, violence, and sexual orientation. Others would say that this is reductionism with a vengeance. In Lifelines, biologist Steven Rose offers a powerful alternative to the ultradarwinist claims of Dawkins, E.O. Wilson, Daniel Dennett and others. Rose argues against an extreme reductionist approach that would make the gene the key to understanding human nature, in favor of a more complex and richer vision of life. He urges instead that we focus on the organism and in particular on the organism's lifeline: the trajectory it takes through time and space. Our personal lifeline, Rose points out, is unique--even identical twins, with identical genes at birth, will differ over time. These differences are obviously not embedded in our genes, but come about through our developmental trajectory in which genes, as part of the biochemical orchestra of trillions of cells in each human body, have an important part--but only a part--to play. To illustrate this idea, Rose examines recent research in modern biology, and especially two disciplines--genetics (which looks at the impact of genes on form) and developmental biology (which examines the interaction between the organism and the environment)--and he explores new ideas on biological complexity proposed by scientists such as Stuart Kauffman. He shows how our lifelines are constructed through the interplay of physical forces--such as the intrinsic chemistry of lipids and proteins, and the self-organizing and stabilizing properties of complex metabolic webs--and he reaches a startling conclusion: that organisms are active players in their own fate, not simply the playthings of the gods, nature, or the inevitable workings out of gene-driven natural selection. The organism is both the weaver and the pattern it weaves. Lifelines will be a rallying point for all who seek an alternative to the currently fashionable, deeply determinist accounts which dominate popular science writing and, in fact, crowd the pages of some of the major scientific journals. Based on solid, state-of-the-art research, it not only makes important contributions to our understanding of Darwin and natural selection, but will swing the pendulum back to a richer, more complex view of human nature and of life. (shrink)
Over the course of human history, the sciences, and biology in particular, have often been manipulated to cause immense human suffering. For example, biology has been used to justify eugenic programs, forced sterilization, human experimentation, and death camps—all in an attempt to support notions of racial superiority. By investigating the past, the contributors to _Biology and Ideology from Descartes to Dawkins_ hope to better prepare us to discern ideological abuse of science when it occurs in the future. (...) Denis R. Alexander and Ronald L. Numbers bring together fourteen experts to examine the varied ways science has been used and abused for nonscientific purposes from the fifteenth century to the present day. Featuring an essay on eugenics from Edward J. Larson and an examination of the progress of evolution by Michael J. Ruse, _Biology and Ideology_ examines uses both benign and sinister, ultimately reminding us that ideological extrapolation continues today. An accessible survey, this collection will enlighten historians of science, their students, practicing scientists, and anyone interested in the relationship between science and culture. (shrink)
Synthetic biology presents a challenge to traditional accounts of biology: Whereas traditional biology emphasizes the evolvability, variability, and heterogeneity of living organisms, synthetic biology envisions a future of homogeneous, humanly engineered biological systems that may be combined in modular fashion. The present paper approaches this challenge from the perspective of the epistemology of technoscience. In particular, it is argued that synthetic-biological artifacts lend themselves to an analysis in terms of what has been called ‘thing knowledge’. As (...) such, they should neither be regarded as the simple outcome of applying theoretical knowledge and engineering principles to specific technological problems, nor should they be treated as mere sources of new evidence in the general pursuit of scientific understanding. Instead, synthetic-biological artifacts should be viewed as partly autonomous research objects which, qua their material-biological constitution, embody knowledge about the natural world—knowledge that, in turn, can be accessed via continuous experimental interrogation. (shrink)
Journal of the History of Biology provides a fifty-year long record for examining the evolution of the history of biology as a scholarly discipline. In this paper, we present a new dataset and preliminary quantitative analysis of the thematic content of JHB from the perspectives of geography, organisms, and thematic fields. The geographic diversity of authors whose work appears in JHB has increased steadily since 1968, but the geographic coverage of the content of JHB articles remains (...) strongly lopsided toward the United States, United Kingdom, and western Europe and has diversified much less dramatically over time. The taxonomic diversity of organisms discussed in JHB increased steadily between 1968 and the late 1990s but declined in later years, mirroring broader patterns of diversification previously reported in the biomedical research literature. Finally, we used a combination of topic modeling and nonlinear dimensionality reduction techniques to develop a model of multi-article fields within JHB. We found evidence for directional changes in the representation of fields on multiple scales. The diversity of JHB with regard to the representation of thematic fields has increased overall, with most of that diversification occurring in recent years. Drawing on the dataset generated in the course of this analysis, as well as web services in the emerging digital history and philosophy of science ecosystem, we have developed an interactive web platform for exploring the content of JHB, and we provide a brief overview of the platform in this article. As a whole, the data and analyses presented here provide a starting-place for further critical reflection on the evolution of the history of biology over the past half-century. (shrink)
A common reductionist assumption is that macro-scale behaviors can be described "bottom-up" if only sufficient details about lower-scale processes are available. The view that an "ideal" or "fundamental" physics would be sufficient to explain all macro-scale phenomena has been met with criticism from philosophers of biology. Specifically, scholars have pointed to the impossibility of deducing biological explanations from physical ones, and to the irreducible nature of distinctively biological processes such as gene regulation and evolution. This paper takes a step (...) back in asking whether bottom-up modeling is feasible even when modeling simple physical systems across scales. By comparing examples of multi-scale modeling in physics and biology, we argue that the “tyranny of scales” problem presents a challenge to reductive explanations in both physics and biology. The problem refers to the scale-dependency of physical and biological behaviors that forces researchers to combine different models relying on different scale-specific mathematical strategies and boundary conditions. Analyzing the ways in which different models are combined in multi-scale modeling also has implications for the relation between physics and biology. Contrary to the assumption that physical science approaches provide reductive explanations in biology, we exemplify how inputs from physics often reveal the importance of macro-scale models and explanations. We illustrate this through an examination of the role of biomechanics modeling in developmental biology. In such contexts, the relation between models at different scales and from different disciplines is neither reductive nor completely autonomous, but interdependent. (shrink)
The social sciences must be biological ones, owing simply to the fact that they focus on the causes and effects of the behavior of members of a biological species, Homo sapiens. Our improved understanding of biology as a science and of the biological realm should enable us therefore to solve several of the outstanding problems of the philosophy of social science. The solution to these problems leaves most of the social and behavioral sciences pretty much as it finds them, (...) though it does provide improved understanding of their scope, limits, and methods. Key Words: biology natural selection Darwinism models narratives history. (shrink)
This set of original essays by some of the best names in philosophy of science explores a range of diverse issues in the intersection of biology and epistemology. It asks whether the study of life requires a special biological approach to knowledge and concludes that it does not. The studies, taken together, help to develop and deepen our understanding of how biology works and what counts as warranted knowledge and as legitimate approaches to the study of life. The (...) first section deals with the nature of evidence and evolutionary theory as it came to dominate nineteenth-century philosophy of science; the second and third parts deal with the impact of laboratory and experimental research. This is an impressive team of authors, bringing together some of the most distinguished philosophers of science today. The volume will interest professionals and graduate students in biology and the history and philosophy of science. (shrink)
Links relating to the history and philosophy of biology, assembled by Roberta L. Millstein: reference works, societies, journals, historians and philosophers of biology with papers online, blogs, other resources in the history and philosophy of biology.
No single theory so far proposed gives a wholly satisfactory account of the origin and maintenance of bird-song dialects. This failure is the consequence of a weak comparative literature that precludes careful comparisons among species or studies, and of the complexity of the issues involved. Complexity arises because dialects seem to bear upon a wide range of features in the life history of bird species. We give an account of the principal issues in bird-song dialects: evolution of vocal learning, (...) experimental findings on song ontogeny, dialect descriptions, female and male reactions to differences in dialect, and population genetics and dispersal.We present a synthetic theory of the origin and maintenance of song dialects, one that accommodates most of the different systems reported in the literature. The few data available suggest that large, regional dialect populations are genetically differentiated; this pattern is correlated with reduced dispersal between dialects, assortative mating by females, and male-male exclusion. At the same time, “subdialects” may be formed within regional dialects. Subdialect clusters are usually small and may represent vocal mimicry among a few adjacent territorial males. The relative importance of genetic and social adaptation may contribute to the emergence of subdialects; their distinctiveness may be correlated with the degree of polygyny, for example. Thus, subdialect formation is linked to one theory of the evolution of repertoire size, but data are too fragmentary to examine this idea critically. (shrink)
Mayr has made both conceptual and professional contributions to the establishment of the history and philosophy of biology. His conceptual contributions include, among many others, the notion of population thinking. He has also played an important role in the establishment of history and philosophy of biology as viable professional disciplines.
In the context of synthetic biology, scientists and bioengineers talk of living beings as being 'living machines'. This categorisation of the envisaged new life forms has given rise to the ethical concern that their moral status may be seen as different from that of natural or only partially artificial living beings. The paper discusses the notion of a living being and the notion of a machine in order to arrive at a conclusion to the question of whether this categorisation (...) is warranted or not. For this reason, it also looks back to the history of the comparison of living beings to machines and tries to show what motivated the analogy. In the end, though, it is argued that one should stop short of categorising living beings as machines, even if there are areas of analogy between living beings and machines. Finally, the idea that the envisaged artificial synthetic living beings could be regarded as some kind of machines is rejected. (shrink)
_Bringing Biology to Life _is a guided tour of the philosophy of biology, canvassing three broad areas: the early history of biology, from Aristotle to Darwin; traditional debates regarding species, function, and units of selection; and recent efforts to better understand the human condition in light of evolutionary biology. Topics are addressed using no more technical jargon than necessary, and without presupposing any advanced knowledge of biology or the philosophy of science on the part (...) of the reader. Discussion questions are also provided to encourage reader reflection. (shrink)
With the emergence of systems biology the notion of organizing principles is being highlighted as a key research aim. Researchers attempt to ‘reverse engineer’ the functional organization of biological systems using methodologies from mathematics, engineering and computer science while taking advantage of data produced by new experimental techniques. While systems biology is a relatively new approach, the quest for general principles of biological organization dates back to systems theoretic approaches in early and mid-20th century. The aim of this (...) paper is to draw on this historical background in order to increase the understanding of the motivation behind the systems theoretic approach and to clarify different epistemic aims within systems biology. We pinpoint key aspects of earlier approaches that also underlie the current practice. These are i) the focus on relational and system-level properties, ii) the inherent critique of reductionism and fragmentation of knowledge resulting from overspecialization, and iii) the insight that the ideal of formulating abstract organizing principles is complementary to, rather than conflicting with, the aim of formulating detailed explanations of biological mechanisms. We argue that looking back not only helps us understand the current practice but also points to possible future directions for systems biology. (shrink)