Agnes Arber: Form in the mind and the eye

International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 17 (3):281 – 300 (2003)
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Agnes Arber (1879-1960) was a British botanist who was a leading plant morphologist during the first half of the 20th century. She also wrote on the history and philosophy of botany. I argue in this article that her philosophical work on form and on how the work of the mind and the eye relate to each other in morphological research are relevant to the science of today. Arber's unusual blend of interests - in botany, history, philosophy, and art - put her in a unique position to examine issues of form. Even her unorthodox ideas on evolution can now be seen as fitting in well with discussions of natural selection as the predominant engine of evolutionary change. Arber's views also throw light on present work dealing with developmental plant genetics and with the study of protein form. I will further argue that her marginal position relative to institutional science, while it may have left her vulnerable to criticism, also made possible her deep philosophical reflections on morphology.



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