The paper works towards an account of explanatory integration in biology, using as a case study explanations of the evolutionary origin of novelties-a problem requiring the integration of several biological fields and approaches. In contrast to the idea that fields studying lower level phenomena are always more fundamental in explanations, I argue that the particular combination of disciplines and theoretical approaches needed to address a complex biological problem and which among them is explanatorily more fundamental varies with the problem pursued. (...) Solving a complex problem need not require theoretical unification or the stable synthesis of different biological fields, as items of knowledge from traditional disciplines can be related solely for the purposes of a specific problem. Apart from the development of genuine interfield theories, successful integration can be effected by smaller epistemic units (concepts, methods, explanations) being linked. Unification or integration is not an aim in itself, but needed for the aim of solving a particular scientific problem, where the problem's nature determines the kind of intellectual integration required. (shrink)
Essentialism is widely regarded as a mistaken view of biological kinds, such as species. After recounting why (sections 2-3), we provide a brief survey of the chief responses to the “death of essentialism” in the philosophy of biology (section 4). We then develop one of these responses, the claim that biological kinds are homeostatic property clusters (sections 5-6) illustrating this view with several novel examples (section 7). Although this view was first expressed 20 years ago, and has received recent discussion (...) and critique, it remains underdeveloped and is often misrepresented by its critics (section 8). (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)
Despite the traditional focus on metaphysical issues in discussions of natural kinds in biology, epistemological considerations are at least as important. By revisiting the debate as to whether taxa are kinds or individuals, I argue that both accounts are metaphysically compatible, but that one or the other approach can be pragmatically preferable depending on the epistemic context. Recent objections against construing species as homeostatic property cluster kinds are also addressed. The second part of the paper broadens the perspective by considering (...) homologues as another example of natural kinds, comparing them with analogues as functionally defined kinds. Given that there are various types of natural kinds, I discuss the different theoretical purposes served by diverse kind concepts, suggesting that there is no clear-cut distinction between natural kinds and other kinds, such as functional kinds. Rather than attempting to offer a unique metaphysical account of ‘natural’ kind, a more fruitful approach consists in the epistemological study of how different natural kind concepts are employed in scientific reasoning. (shrink)
Reductionism encompasses a set of ontological, epistemological, and methodological claims about the relation of different scientific domains. The basic question of reduction is whether the properties, concepts, explanations, or methods from one scientific domain (typically at higher levels of organization) can be deduced from or explained by the properties, concepts, explanations, or methods from another domain of science (typically one about lower levels of organization). Reduction is germane to a variety of issues in philosophy of science, including the structure of (...) scientific theories, the relations between different scientific disciplines, the nature of explanation, the diversity of methodology, and the very idea of theoretical progress, as well as to numerous topics in metaphysics and philosophy of mind, such as emergence, mereology, and supervenience. (shrink)
Evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) is considered a ‘mechanistic science,’ in that it causally explains morphological evolution in terms of changes in developmental mechanisms. Evo-devo is also an interdisciplinary and integrative approach, as its explanations use contributions from many fields and pertain to different levels of organismal organization. Philosophical accounts of mechanistic explanation are currently highly prominent, and have been particularly able to capture the integrative nature of multifield and multilevel explanations. However, I argue that evo-devo demonstrates the need for a (...) broadened philosophical conception of mechanisms and mechanistic explanation. Mechanistic explanation (in terms of the qualitative interactions of the structural parts of a whole) has been developed as an alternative to the traditional idea of explanation as derivation from laws or quantitative principles. Against the picture promoted by Carl Craver, that mathematical models describe but usually do not explain, my discussion of cases from the strand of evo-devo which is concerned with developmental processes points to qualitative phenomena where quantitative mathematical models are an indispensable part of the explanation. While philosophical accounts have focused on the actual organization and operation of mechanisms, properties of developmental mechanisms that are about how a mechanism reacts to modifications are of major evolutionary significance, including robustness, phenotypic plasticity, and modularity. A philosophical conception of mechanisms is needed that takes into account quantitative changes, transient entities and the generation of novel types of entities, feedback loops and complex interaction networks, emergent properties, and, in particular, functional-dynamical aspects of mechanisms, including functional (as opposed to structural) organization and distributed, system-wide phenomena. I conclude with general remarks on philosophical accounts of explanation. (shrink)
According to many biologists, explaining the evolution of morphological novelty and behavioral innovation are central endeavors in contemporary evolutionary biology. These endeavors are inherently multidisciplinary but also have involved a high degree of controversy. One key source of controversy is the definitional diversity associated with the concept of evolutionary novelty, which can lead to contradictory claims (a novel trait according to one definition is not a novel trait according to another). We argue that this diversity should be interpreted in light (...) of a different epistemic role played by the concept of evolutionary novelty—the structuring of a problem space or setting of an explanatory agenda—rather than the concept’s capacity to categorize traits as novel. This distinctive role is consistent with the definitional diversity and shows that the concept of novelty benefits ongoing investigation by focusing attention on answering different questions related to comprehending the origins of novelty. A review of recent theoretical and empirical work on evolutionary novelty confirms this interpretation. (shrink)
This essay analyzes and develops recent views about explanation in biology. Philosophers of biology have parted with the received deductive-nomological model of scientific explanation primarily by attempting to capture actual biological theorizing and practice. This includes an endorsement of different kinds of explanation (e.g., mathematical and causal-mechanistic), a joint study of discovery and explanation, and an abandonment of models of theory reduction in favor of accounts of explanatory reduction. Of particular current interest are philosophical accounts of complex explanations that appeal (...) to different levels of organismal organization and use contributions from different biological disciplines. The essay lays out one model that views explanatory integration across different disciplines as being structured by scientific problems. I emphasize the philosophical need to take the explanatory aims pursued by different groups of scientists into account, as explanatory aims determine whether different explanations are competing or complementary and govern the dynamics of scientific practice, including interdisciplinary research. I distinguish different kinds of pluralism that philosophers have endorsed in the context of explanation in biology, and draw several implications for science education, especially the need to teach science as an interdisciplinary and dynamic practice guided by scientific problems and explanatory aims. (shrink)
The discussion presents a framework of concepts that is intended to account for the rationality of semantic change and variation, suggesting that each scientific concept consists of three components of content: 1) reference, 2) inferential role, and 3) the epistemic goal pursued with the concept’s use. I argue that in the course of history a concept can change in any of these components, and that change in the concept’s inferential role and reference can be accounted for as being rational relative (...) to the third component, the concept’s epistemic goal. This framework is illustrated and defended by application to the history of the gene concept. It is explained how the molecular gene concept grew rationally out of the classical gene concept despite a change in reference, and why the use and reference of the contemporary molecular gene concept may legitimately vary from context to context. (shrink)
By linking the concepts of homology and morphological organization to evolvability, this paper attempts to (1) bridge the gap between developmental and phylogenetic approaches to homology and to (2) show that developmental constraints and natural selection are compatible and in fact complementary. I conceive of a homologue as a unit of morphological evolvability, i.e., as a part of an organism that can exhibit heritable phenotypic variation independently of the organism’s other homologues. An account of homology therefore consists in explaining how (...) an organism’s developmental constitution results in different homologues/characters as units that can evolve independently of each other. The explanans of an account of homology is developmental, yet the very explanandum is an evolutionary phenomenon: evolvability in a character-by-character fashion, which manifests itself in phylogenetic patterns as recognized by phylogenetic approaches to homology. While developmental constraints and selection have often been viewed as antagonistic forces, I argue that both are complementary as they concern different parts of the evolutionary process. Developmental constraints, conceived of as the presence of the same set of homologues across phenotypic change, pertain to how heritable variation can be generated in the first place (evolvability), while natural selection operates subsequently on the produced variation. (shrink)
Whereas an inference (deductive as well as inductive) is usually viewed as being valid in virtue of its argument form, the present paper argues that scientific reasoning is material inference, i.e., justified in virtue of its content. A material inference is licensed by the empirical content embodied in the concepts contained in the premises and conclusion. Understanding scientific reasoning as material inference has the advantage of combining different aspects of scientific reasoning, such as confirmation, discovery, and explanation. This approach explains (...) why these different aspects (including discovery) can be rational without conforming to formal schemes, and why scientific reasoning is local, i.e., justified only in certain domains and contingent on particular empirical facts. The notion of material inference also fruitfully interacts with accounts of conceptual change and psychological theories of concepts. (shrink)
Multilevel research strategies characterize contemporary molecular inquiry into biological systems. We outline conceptual, methodological, and explanatory dimensions of these multilevel strategies in microbial ecology, systems biology, protein research, and developmental biology. This review of emerging lines of inquiry in these fields suggests that multilevel research in molecular life sciences has significant implications for philosophical understandings of explanation, modeling, and representation.
The ‘death of evidence’ issue in Canada raises the spectre of politicized science, and thus the question of what role social values may have in science and how this meshes with objectivity and evidence. I first criticize philosophical accounts that have to separate different steps of research to restrict the influence of social and other non-epistemic values. A prominent account that social values may play a role even in the context of theory acceptance is the argument from inductive risk. It (...) maintains that the more severe the social consequences of erroneously accepting a theory would be, the more evidence is needed before the theory may be accepted. However, an implication of this position is that increasing evidence makes the impact of social values converge to zero; and I argue for a stronger role for social values. On this position, social values may determine a theory’s conditions of adequacy, which among other things can include co.. (shrink)
In this chapter I lay out a notion of philosophical naturalism that aligns with pragmatism. It is developed and illustrated by a presentation of my views on natural kinds and my theory of concepts. Both accounts reflect a methodological naturalism and are defended not by way of metaphysical considerations, but in terms of their philosophical fruitfulness. A core theme is that the epistemic interests of scientists have to be taken into account by any naturalistic philosophy of science in general, and (...) any account of natural kinds and scientific concepts in particular. I conclude with general methodological remarks on how to develop and defend philosophical notions without using intuitions. (shrink)
This introduction to the special section on integration in biology provides an overview of the different contributions. In addition to motivating the philosophical significance of analyzing integration and interdisciplinary research, I lay out common themes and novel insights found among the special section contributions, and indicate how they exhibit current trends in the philosophical study of integration. One upshot of the contributed papers is that there are different aspects to and kinds of integration, so that rather than attempting to offer (...) a universal construal of what integrations is, philosophers have to analyze in concrete cases in what respects particular aspects of scientific theorizing and/or practice are ‘integrative’ and how this instance of integration works and was achieved. (shrink)
Examining previous discussions on how to construe the concepts of gender and race, we advocate what we call strategic conceptual engineering. This is the employment of a (possibly novel) concept for specific epistemic or social aims, concomitant with the openness to use a different concept (e.g., of race) for other purposes. We illustrate this approach by sketching three distinct concepts of gender and arguing that all of them are needed, as they answer to different social aims. The first concept serves (...) the aim of identifying and explaining gender-based discrimination. It is similar to Haslanger’s well-known account, except that rather than offering a definition of ‘woman’ we focus on ‘gender’ as one among several axes of discrimination. The second concept of gender is to assign legal rights and social recognitions, and thus is to be trans-inclusive. We argue that this cannot be achieved by previously suggested concepts that include substantial gender-related psychological features, such as awareness of social expectations. Instead, our concept counts someone as being of a certain gender solely based on the person’s self-identification with this gender. The third concept of gender serves the aim of personal empowerment by means of one’s gender identity. In this context, substantial psychological features and awareness of one’s social situation are involved. While previous accounts of concepts have focused on their role in determining extensions, we point to contexts where a concept’s role in explanation and moral reasoning can be more important. (shrink)
Although natural philosophers have long been interested in individuality, it has been of interest to contemporary philosophers of biology because of its role in different aspects of evolutionary biology. These debates include whether species are individuals or classes, what counts as a unit of selection, and how transitions in individuality occur evolutionarily. Philosophical analyses are often conducted in terms of metaphysics (“what is an individual?”), rather than epistemology (“how can and do researchers conceptualize individuals so as to address some of (...) their scientific goals?”). We review several philosophical distinctions in order to shift attention from metaphysics to epistemology. Many controversies involve epistemological differences rather than metaphysical disagreement. This implies that a pluralist stance about individuality in biology is warranted and has metaphysical consequences because the pluralism emerges from the diversity of scientific interests that investigate the complexity of living phenomena. (shrink)
This chapter offers a critique of intelligent design arguments against evolution and a philosophical discussion of the nature of science, drawing several lessons for the teaching of evolution and for science education in general. I discuss why Behe’s irreducible complexity argument fails, and why his portrayal of organismal systems as machines is detrimental to biology education and any under-standing of how organismal evolution is possible. The idea that the evolution of complex organismal features is too unlikely to have occurred by (...) random mutation and selection (as recently promoted by Dembski) is very widespread, but it is easy to show students why such small probability arguments are fallacious. While intelligent design proponents have claimed that the exclusion of supernatural causes mandated by scientific methods is dogmatically presupposed by science, scientists have an empirical justification for using such methods. This justification is instructive for my discussion of how to demarcate science from pseudoscience. I argue that there is no universal account of the nature of science, but that the criteria used to judge an intellectual approach vary across historical periods and have to be specific to the scientific domain. Moreover, intellectual approaches have to be construed as practices based on institutional factors and values, and to be evaluated in terms of the activities of their practitioners. Science educators should not just teach scientific facts, but present science as a practice and make students reflect on the nature of science, as this gives them a better appreciation of the ways in which intelligent design falls short of actual science. (shrink)
The present paper analyzes the use and understanding of the homology concept across different biological disciplines. It is argued that in its history, the homology concept underwent a sort of adaptive radiation. Once it migrated from comparative anatomy into new biological fields, the homology concept changed in accordance with the theoretical aims and interests of these disciplines. The paper gives a case study of the theoretical role that homology plays in comparative and evolutionary biology, in molecular biology, and in evolutionary (...) developmental biology. It is shown that the concept or variant of homology preferred by a particular biological field is used to bring about items of biological knowledge that are characteristic for this field. A particular branch of biology uses its homology concept to pursue its specific theoretical goals. (shrink)
The philosophy of science that grew out of logical positivism construed scientific knowledge in terms of set of interconnected beliefs about the world, such as theories and observation statements. Nowadays science is also conceived of as a dynamic process based on the various practices of individual scientists and the institutional settings of science. Two features particularly influence the dynamics of scientific knowledge: epistemic standards and aims (e.g., assumptions about what issues are currently in need of scientific study and explanation). While (...) scientific beliefs are representations of the world, scientific standards and aims are epistemic values. The relevance of epistemic aims and values for belief change has been previously recognized. My paper makes a similar point for scientific concepts, both by studying how an individual concept changes (in its semantic properties) and by viewing epistemic aims and values tied to individual concepts. (shrink)
Marc Ereshefsky argues that pluralism about species suggests that the species concept is not theoretically useful. It is to be abandoned in favor of several concrete species concepts that denote real categories. While accepting species pluralism, the present paper rejects eliminativism about the species category. It is argued that the species concept is important and that it is possible to make sense of a general species concept despite the existence of different concrete species concepts.
The concept of developmental constraint was at the heart of developmental approaches to evolution of the 1980s. While this idea was widely used to criticize neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory, critique does not yield an alternative framework that offers evolutionary explanations. In current Evo-devo the concept of constraint is of minor importance, whereas notions as evolvability are at the center of attention. The latter clearly defines an explanatory agenda for evolutionary research, so that one could view the historical shift from ‘developmental constraint’ (...) towards ‘evolvability’ as the move from a concept that is a mere tool of criticism to a concept that establishes a positive explanatory project. However, by taking a look at how the concept of constraint was employed in the 1980s, I argue that developmental constraint was not just seen as restricting possibilities (‘constraining’), but also as facilitating morphological change in several ways. Accounting for macroevolutionary transformation and the origin of novel form was an aim of these developmental approaches to evolution. Thus, the concept of developmental constraint was part of a positive explanatory agenda long before the advent of Evo-devo as a genuine scientific discipline. In the 1980s, despite the lack of a clear disciplinary identity, this concept coordinated research among paleontologists, morphologists, and developmentally inclined evolutionary biologists. I discuss the different functions that scientific concepts can have, highlighting that instead of classifying or explaining natural phenomena, concepts such as ‘developmental constraint’ and ‘evolvability’ are more important in setting explanatory agendas so as to provide intellectual coherence to scientific approaches. The essay concludes with a puzzle about how to conceptually distinguish evolvability and selection. (shrink)
The increasing application of network models to interpret biological systems raises a number of important methodological and epistemological questions. What novel insights can network analysis provide in biology? Are network approaches an extension of or in conflict with mechanistic research strategies? When and how can network and mechanistic approaches interact in productive ways? In this paper we address these questions by focusing on how biological networks are represented and analyzed in a diverse class of case studies. Our examples span from (...) the investigation of organizational properties of biological networks using tools from graph theory to the application of dynamical systems theory to understand the behavior of complex biological systems. We show how network approaches support and extend traditional mechanistic strategies but also offer novel strategies for dealing with biological complexity. (shrink)
Taxa and homologues can in our view be construed both as kinds and as individuals. However, the conceptualization of taxa as natural kinds in the sense of homeostatic property cluster kinds has been criticized by some systematists, as it seems that even such kinds cannot evolve due to their being homeostatic. We reply by arguing that the treatment of transformational and taxic homologies, respectively, as dynamic and static aspects of the same homeostatic property cluster kind represents a good perspective for (...) supporting the conceptualization of taxa as kinds. The focus on a phenomenon of homology based on causal processes (e.g., connectivity, activity-function, genetics, inheritance, and modularity) and implying relationship with modification yields a notion of natural kinds conforming to the phylogenetic-evolutionary framework. Nevertheless, homeostatic property cluster kinds in taxonomic and evolutionary practice must be rooted in the primacy of epistemological classification (homology as observational properties) over metaphysical generalization (series of transformation and common ancestry as unobservational processes). The perspective of individuating characters exclusively by historical-transformational independence instead of their developmental, structural, and functional independence fails to yield a sufficient practical interplay between theory and observation. Purely ontological and ostensional perspectives in evolution and phylogeny (e.g., an ideographic character concept and PhyloCode’s ‘individualism’ of clades) may be pragmatically contested in the case of urgent issues in biodiversity research, conservation, and systematics. (shrink)
Contributing to the recent debate on whether or not explanations ought to be differentiated from arguments, this article argues that the distinction matters to science education. I articulate the distinction in terms of explanations and arguments having to meet different standards of adequacy. Standards of explanatory adequacy are important because they correspond to what counts as a good explanation in a science classroom, whereas a focus on evidence-based argumentation can obscure such standards of what makes an explanation explanatory. I provide (...) further reasons for the relevance of not conflating explanations with arguments (and having standards of explanatory adequacy in view). First, what guides the adoption of the particular standards of explanatory adequacy that are relevant in a scientific case is the explanatory aim pursued in this context. Apart from explanatory aims being an important aspect of the nature of science, including explanatory aims in classroom instruction also promotes students seeing explanations as more than facts, and engages them in developing explanations as responses to interesting explanatory problems. Second, it is of relevance to science curricula that science aims at intervening in natural processes, not only for technological applications, but also as part of experimental discovery. Not any argument enables intervention in nature, as successful intervention specifically presupposes causal explanations. Students can fruitfully explore in the classroom how an explanatory account suggests different options for intervention. (shrink)
Ongoing empirical discoveries in molecular biology have generated novel conceptual challenges and perspectives. Philosophers of biology have reacted to these trends when investigating the practice of molecular biology and contributed to scientific debates on methodological and conceptual matters. This article reviews some major philosophical issues in molecular biology. First, philosophical accounts of mechanistic explanation yield a notion of explanation in the context of molecular biology that does not have to rely on laws of nature and comports well with molecular discovery. (...) Second, reductionism continues to be debated and increasingly be rejected by scientists. Philosophers have likewise moved away from reduction toward integration across fields or integrative explanations covering several levels of organization. Third, although the gene concept has undergone substantial transformation and even fragmentation, it still enjoys widespread use by molecular biologists, which has prompted philosophers to understand the empirical reasons for this. At the same time, it has been argued the notion of ‘genetic information’ is largely an empty metaphor, which generates the illusion of explanatory understanding without offering an adequate explanation of molecular and developmental mechanisms. (shrink)
Homology is a natural kind term and a precise account of what homologyis has to come out of theories about the role of homologues in evolution anddevelopment. Definitions of homology are discussed with respect to the questionas to whether they are able to give a non-circular account of thecorrespondenceor sameness referred to by homology. It is argued that standard accounts tiehomology to operational criteria or specific research projects, but are not yetable to offer a concept of homology that does not (...) presuppose a version ofhomology or a comparable notion of sameness. This is the case for phylogeneticdefinitions that trace structures back to the common ancestor as well as fordevelopmental approaches such as Wagner's biological homology concept. Incontrast, molecular homology is able to offer a definition of homology in genesand proteins that explicates homology by reference to more basic notions.Molecular correspondence originates by means of specific features of causalprocesses. It is speculated that further understanding of morphogenesis mightenable biologists to give a theoretically deeper definition of homology alongsimilar lines: an account which makes reference to the concrete mechanisms thatoperate in organisms. (shrink)
The evolutionary embryologist Gavin Rylands de Beer can be viewed as one of the forerunners of modern evolutionary developmental biology in that he posed crucial questions and proposed relevant answers about the causal relationship between ontogeny and phylogeny. In his developmental approach to the phylogenetic phenomenon of homology, he emphasized that homology of morphological structures is to be identified neither with the sameness of the underlying developmental processes nor with the homology of the genes that are in involved in the (...) development of the structures. De Beer’s work on developmental evolution focused on the notion of heterochrony, arguing that paedomorphosis increases morphological evolvability and is thereby an important mode of evolution that accounts for the origin of many taxa, including higher taxa. (shrink)
This essay discusses Elliott Sober’s Evidence and Evolution: The Logic Behind the Science. Valuable to both philosophers and biologists, Sober analyzes the testing of different kinds of evolutionary hypotheses about natural selection or phylogenetic history, including a thorough critique of intelligent design. Not at least because of a discussion of different schools of hypothesis testing (Bayesianism, likelihoodism, and frequentism), with Sober favoring a pluralism where different inference methods are appropriate in different empirical contexts, the book has lessons for philosophy of (...) science beyond its evolutionary focus. I criticize Sober for not including epistemic values and social aspects of scientific practice in his epistemological framework. (shrink)
Ethology brought some crucial insights and perspectives to the study of behavior, in particular the idea that behavior can be studied within a comparative-evolutionary framework by means of homologizing components of behavioral patterns and by causal analysis of behavior components and their integration. Early ethology is well-known for its extensive use of qualitative observations of animals under their natural conditions. These observations are combined with experiments that try to analyze behavioral patterns and establish specific claims about animal behavior. Nowadays, there (...) is still disagreement about the significance of observation and experiments and their relation. (shrink)
Peculiar to Konrad Lorenz’s view of instinctive behavior is his strong innate-learned dichotomy. He claimed that there are neither ontogenetic nor phylogenetic transitions between instinctive and experience-based behavior components, thus contradicting all former accounts of instinct. The present study discusses how Lorenz came to hold this controversial position by examining the history of Lorenz’s early theoretical development in the crucial period from 1931 to 1937, taking relevant influences into account. Lorenz’s intellectual development is viewed as being guided by four theoretical (...) and practical commitments as to how to study and explain behavior. These four factors, which were part of the general approach of Lorenz but not of other animal psychologists, were crucial in bringing about his specific position on instinctive behavior. (shrink)
We address the question of whether and to what extent explanatory and modelling strategies in systems biology are mechanistic. After showing how dynamic mathematical models are actually required for mechanistic explanations of complex systems, we caution readers against expecting all systems biology to be about mechanistic explanations. Instead, the aim may be to generate topological explanations that are not standardly mechanistic, or to arrive at design principles that explain system organization and behaviour in general, but not specific mechanisms. These abstraction (...) strategies serve various aims, including prediction and control, that are central to understanding the epistemic diversity of systems biology. (shrink)
Philosophical discussions of systems biology have enriched the notion of mechanistic explanation by pointing to the role of mathematical modeling. However, such accounts still focus on explanation in terms of tracking a mechanism's operation across time (by means of mental or computational simulation). My contention is that there are explanations of molecular systems where the explanatory understanding does not consist in tracking a mechanism's operation and productive continuity. I make this case by a discussion of bifurcation analysis in dynamical systems, (...) articulating the distinctive way in which explanatory understanding is provided, especially about the reversibility or irreversibility of molecular processes. (shrink)
David Chalmers and Frank Jackson have promoted a strong program of conceptual analysis, which accords a significant philosophical role to the a priori analysis of concepts. They found this methodological program on an account of concepts using two-dimensional semantics. This paper argues that Chalmers and Jackson’s account of concepts, and the related approach by David Braddon-Mitchell, is inadequate for natural kind concepts as found in biology. Two-dimensional semantics is metaphysically faulty as an account of the nature of concepts and concept (...) possession. It is also methodologically flawed as a guideline for how to study scientific concepts. Proponents of two-dimensional semantics are criticized for not taking seriously semantic variation between persons and for failing to adequately account for the rationality of semantic change. I suggest a more pragmatic approach to natural kind term meaning, arguing that the epistemic goal pursued by a term’s use is an additional semantic property. (shrink)
The traditional practice of establishing morphological types and investigating morphological organization has found new support from evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo), especially with respect to the notion of body plans. Despite recurring claims that typology is at odds with evolutionary thinking, evo-devo offers mechanistic explanations of the evolutionary origin, transformation, and evolvability of morphological organization. In parallel, philosophers have developed non-essentialist conceptions of natural kinds that permit kinds to exhibit variation and undergo change. This not only facilitates a construal of species (...) and higher taxa as natural kinds, but also broadens our perspective on the diversity of kinds found in biology. There are many different natural kinds relevant to the investigative and explanatory aims of evo-devo, including homologues and developmental modules. (shrink)
The theory of concepts advanced in the present discussion aims at accounting for a) how a concept makes successful practice possible, and b) how a scientific concept can be subject to rational change in the course of history. To this end, I suggest that each scientific concept consists of three components of content: 1) the concept.
Edited by Alessandro Minelli and Thomas Pradeu, Towards a Theory of Development gathers essays by biologists and philosophers, which display a diversity of theoretical perspectives. The discussions not only cover the state of art, but broaden our vision of what development includes and provide pointers for future research. Interestingly, all contributors agree that explanations should not just be gene-centered, and virtually none use design and other engineering metaphors to articulate principles of cellular and organismal organization. I comment in particular on (...) the issue of how to construe the notion of a ‘theory’ and whether developmental biology has or should aspire to have theories, which four of the contributions discuss in detail while taking opposing positions. Beyond construing a theory in terms of its empirical content, my aim is to shift the focus toward the role that theories have for guiding future scientific theorizing and practice. Such a conception of ‘theory’ is particularly important in the context of development, because arriving at a theoretical framework that provides guidance for the discipline of developmental biology as a whole is more plausible than a unified representation of development across all taxa. (shrink)
The purpose of the paper is twofold. I first outline a philosophical theory of concepts based on conceptual role semantics. This approach is explicitly intended as a framework for the study and explanation of conceptual change in science. Then I point to the close similarities between this philosophical framework and the theory theory of concepts, suggesting that a convergence between psychological and philosophical approaches to concepts is possible. An underlying theme is to stress that using a non-atomist account of concepts (...) is crucial for the successful study of conceptual development and change. (shrink)
This paper uses an example from biology, the homology concept, to argue that current versions of the causal theory of reference give an incomplete account of reference determination. It is suggested that in addition to samples and stereotypical properties, the scientific use of concepts and the epistemic interests pursued with concepts are important factors in determining the reference of natural kind terms.
The paper discusses reference determination from the point of view of conceptual change in science. The first part of the discussion uses the homology concept, a natural kind term from biology, as an example. It is argued that the causal theory of reference gives an incomplete account of reference determination even in the case of natural kind terms. Moreover, even if descriptions of the referent are taken into account, this does not yield a satisfactory account of reference in the case (...) of the homology concept. I suggest that in addition to the factors that standard theories of reference invoke the scientific use of concepts and the epistemic interests pursued with concepts are important factors in determining the reference of scientific concepts. In the second part, I argue for a moderate holism about reference determination according to which the set of conditions that determine the reference of a concept is relatively open and different conditions may be reference fixing depending on the context in which this concept is used. It is also suggested that which features are reference determining in a particular case may depend on the philosophical interests that underlie reference ascription and the study of conceptual change. (shrink)
Understanding the organization of an organism by individuating meaningful parts and accounting for organismal properties by studying the interaction of bodily parts is a central practice in many areas of biology. While structures are obvious bodily parts and structure and function have often been seen as antagonistic principles in the study of organismal organization, my tenet is that structures and functions are on a par. I articulate a notion of function (functions as activities), according to which functions are bodily parts (...) just as structures are. Recognizing part-whole relations among an organism’s various structures and functions permits fruitful investigation and multilevel explanation of organismal properties and functioning, across both developmental and evolutionary time. I show how my perspective clarifies debates surrounding homology and evolutionary novelty that stem from an alleged structure-function dichotomy. My approach favors a pluralism about individuation, where the criteria of what counts as a meaningful bodily part depend on the particular epistemic aims pursued in a scientific context. (shrink)
The present paper discusses Kitcher’s framework for studying conceptual change and progress. Kitcher’s core notion of reference potential is hard to apply to concrete cases. In addition, an account of conceptual change as change in reference potential misses some important aspects of conceptual change and conceptual progress. I propose an alternative framework that focuses on the inferences and explanations supported by scientific concepts. The application of my approach to the history of the gene concept offers a better account of the (...) conceptual progress that occurred in the transition from the Mendelian to the molecular gene than Kitcher’s theory. (shrink)
Reductionism in the Philosophy of Science develops a novel account of reduction in science and applies it to the relationship between classical and molecular genetics. However, rather than addressing the epistemological issues that have been essential to the reductionism debate in philosophy of biology, the discussion primarily pursues ontological questions, as they are known, about reducing the mental to the physical. For Sachse construes reductionism as a purely philosophical endeavor and defends the possibility of reduction in principle, which may not (...) be relevant to understanding reductionist reasoning and explanation occurring in scientific practice, as discussed by philosophers of science. Likewise, the conceptual framework used stems more from metaphysics and philosophy of mind than philosophy of science. Sachse's aim is twofold. First, he argues for the special sciences' being reducible to physics, by deriving the in principle possibility of epistemological reduction from ontological reduction. Second, he attempts to simultaneously make room for the legitimacy of the special sciences, effecting a conservative reduction rather than an elimination of the special sciences. (shrink)
The paper discusses concept individuation in the context of scientific concepts and conceptual change in science. It is argued that some concepts can be individuated in different ways. A particular term may be viewed as corresponding to a single concept. But at the same time, we can legitimately individuate in a more fine grained manner, i.e., this term can also be considered as corresponding to two or several concepts. The reason is that there are different philosophical and explanatory interests that (...) underlie a particular study of the change of a scientific term. These interests determine how a concept is to be individuated; and as the same term can be subject to different philosophical studies and interests, its content can be individuated in different ways. (shrink)
The present paper gives a philosophical analysis of the conceptual variation in the homology concept. It is argued that different homology concepts are used in evolutionary and comparative biology, in evolutionary developmental biology, and in molecular biology. The study uses conceptual role semantics, focusing on the inferences and explanations supported by concepts, as a heuristic tool to explain conceptual change. The differences between homology concepts are due to the fact that these concepts play different theoretical roles for different biological fields. (...) The specific theoretical needs and explanatory interests of different research approaches lead to different homology concepts. (shrink)
Review symposium of Alexander Rosenberg’s Darwinian Reductionism: Or, How to Stop Worrying and Love Molecular Biology . -/- Worry carries with it a connotation of false concern, as in ‘your mother is always worried about you’. And yet some worrying, including that of your mother, turns out to be justified. Alexander Rosenberg’s new book is an extended argument intended to assuage false concerns about reductionism and molecular biology while encouraging a loving embrace of the two.
This overview of philosophy of biology lays out what implications biology and recent philosophy of biology have for general philosophy of science. The following topics are addressed in five sections: natural kinds, conceptual change, discovery and confirmation, explanation and reduction, and naturalism.