Although contemporary metaphysics has recently undergone a neo-Aristotelian revival wherein dispositions, or capacities are now commonplace in empirically grounded ontologies, being routinely utilised in theories of causality and modality, a central Aristotelian concept has yet to be given serious attention – the doctrine of hylomorphism. The reason for this is clear: while the Aristotelian ontological distinction between actuality and potentiality has proven to be a fruitful conceptual framework with which to model the operation of the natural world, the distinction between (...) form and matter has yet to similarly earn its keep. In this chapter, I offer a first step toward showing that the hylomorphic framework is up to that task. To do so, I return to the birthplace of that doctrine - the biological realm. Utilising recent advances in developmental biology, I argue that the hylomorphic framework is an empirically adequate and conceptually rich explanatory schema with which to model the nature of organisms. (shrink)
Despite wide acceptance that the attributes of living creatures have appeared through a cumulative evolutionary process guided chiefly by natural selection, many human activities have seemed analytically inaccessible through such an approach. Prominent evolutionary biologists, for example, have described morality as contrary to the direction of biological evolution, and moral philosophers rarely regard evolution as relevant to their discussions. -/- The Biology of Moral Systems adopts the position that moral questions arise out of conflicts of interest, and that moral (...) systems are ways of using confluences of interest at lower levels of social organiation to deal with conflicts of interest at higher levels. Moral systems are described as systems of indirect reciprocity: humans gain and lose socially and reproductively not only by direct transactions, but also by the reputations they gain from the everyday flow of social interactions. -/- The author develops a general theory of human interests, using senescence and effort theory from biology, to help analye the patterning of human lifetimes. He argues that the ultimate interests of humans are reproductive, and that the concept of morality has arisen within groups because of its contribution to unity in the context, ultimately, of success in intergroup competition. He contends that morality is not easily relatable to universals, and he carries this argument into a discussion of what he calls the greatest of all moral problems, the nuclear arms race. (shrink)
Since Boorse [Philos Sci 44:542–573, 1977] published his paper “Health as a theoretical concept” one of the most lively debates within philosophy of medicine has been on the question of whether health and disease are in some sense ‘objective’ and ‘value-free’ or ‘subjective’ and ‘value-laden’. Due to the apparent ‘failure’ of pure naturalist, constructivist, or normativist accounts, much in the recent literature has appealed to more conciliatory approaches or so-called ‘hybrid accounts’ of health and disease. A recent paper by Matthewson (...) and Griffiths [J Med Philos 42:447–466, 2017], however, may bear the seeds for the revival of purely naturalist approach to health and disease. In this paper, I defend their idea of Biological Normativity against recent criticism by Schwartz [J Med Philos Forum Bioethics Philos Med 42:485–502, 2017] and hope to help it flower into a revival of naturalist approaches in the philosophy of medicine. (shrink)
Do the sciences aim to uncover the structure of nature, or are they ultimately a practical means of controlling our environment? In Instrumental Biology, or the Disunity of Science, Alexander Rosenberg argues that while physics and chemistry can develop laws that reveal the structure of natural phenomena, biology is fated to be a practical, instrumental discipline. Because of the complexity produced by natural selection, and because of the limits on human cognition, scientists are prevented from uncovering the basic (...) structure of biological phenomena. Consequently, biology and all of the disciplines that rest upon it--psychology and the other human sciences--must aim at most to provide practical tools for coping with the natural world rather than a complete theoretical understanding of it. (shrink)
Since Darwin, Biology has been framed on the idea of evolution by natural selection, which has profoundly influenced the scientific and philosophical comprehension of biological phenomena and of our place in Nature. This book argues that contemporary biology should progress towards and revolve around an even more fundamental idea, that of autonomy. Biological autonomy describes living organisms as organised systems, which are able to self-produce and self-maintain as integrated entities, to establish their own goals and norms, and to (...) promote the conditions of their existence through their interactions with the environment. Topics covered in this book include organisation and biological emergence, organisms, agency, levels of autonomy, cognition, and a look at the historical dimension of autonomy. The current development of scientific investigations on autonomous organisation calls for a theoretical and philosophical analysis. This can contribute to the elaboration of an original understanding of life - including human life - on Earth, opening new perspectives and enabling fecund interactions with other existing theories and approaches. This book takes up the challenge. (shrink)
Perhaps because of it implications for our understanding of human nature, recent philosophy of biology has seen what might be the most dramatic work in the philosophies of the ”special” sciences. This drama has centered on evolutionary theory, and in the second edition of this textbook, Elliott Sober introduces the reader to the most important issues of these developments. With a rare combination of technical sophistication and clarity of expression, Sober engages both the higher level of theory and the (...) direct implications for such controversial issues as creationism, teleology, nature versus nurture, and sociobiology. Above all, the reader will gain from this book a firm grasp of the structure of evolutionary theory, the evidence for it, and the scope of its explanatory significance. (shrink)
This essay in the "anthropology of science" is about how cognition constrains culture in producing science. The example is folk biology, whose cultural recurrence issues from the very same domain-specific cognitive universals that provide the historical backbone of systematic biology. Humans everywhere think about plants and animals in highly structured ways. People have similar folk-biological taxonomies composed of essence-based species-like groups and the ranking of species into lower- and higher-order groups. Such taxonomies are not as arbitrary in structure (...) and content, nor as variable across cultures, as the assembly of entities into cosmologies, materials or social groups. (shrink)
The biological functions debate is a perennial topic in the philosophy of science. In the first full-length account of the nature and importance of biological functions for many years, Justin Garson presents an innovative new theory, the 'generalized selected effects theory of function', which seamlessly integrates evolutionary and developmental perspectives on biological functions. He develops the implications of the theory for contemporary debates in the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of medicine and psychiatry, the philosophy of biology, and (...) class='Hi'>biology itself, addressing issues ranging from the nature of mental representation to our understanding of the function of the human genome. Clear, jargon-free, and engagingly written, with accessible examples and explanatory diagrams to illustrate the discussion, his book will be highly valuable for readers across philosophical and scientific disciplines. (shrink)
Deweyan pedagogy seeks to promotes growth, characterized as an increased sensitivity, responsiveness, and ability to participate in an environment. Growth, Dewey says, is fostered by the development of habits that enable further habit formation. Unfortunately, humans have their own habitual ways of encountering other species, which often do not support growth. In this article, I briefly review some common conceptions of learning and the process of habit-formation to scope out the landscape of a more responsible and responsive approach to taking (...) growth seriously. What emerges is a reflexive biosemiotics that has humans explicitly concerned with the in situ emergence of new signification in themselves and in other organisms. This requires we take a pedagogical stance in our attitudes and practices towards other species, which we can enrich with insights derived from re-interpreting traditional empirical studies. By freeing the habit-forming process from confining stereotype, a biological pedagogy can enable a more fluid and creative biosphere, unencumbered to explore unfolding possibilities in semiotic space. (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)
An incisive study of the development of the biological sciences chronicles the origins, maturation, and modern views of the classification of life forms, the evolution of species, and the inheritance and variation of characteristics.
During the last twenty years, Kant's theory of biology has increasingly attracted the attention of scholars and developed into a field which is growing rapidly in importance within Kant studies. The volume presents fifteen interpretative essays written by experts working in the field, covering topics from seventeenth- and eighteenth-century biological theories, the development of the philosophy of biology in Kant's writings, the theory of organisms in Kant's Critique of the Power of Judgment, and current perspectives on the teleology (...) of nature. (shrink)
This paper attempts to elucidate three characteristics of causal relationships that are important in biological contexts. Stability has to do with whether a causal relationship continues to hold under changes in background conditions. Proportionality has to do with whether changes in the state of the cause “line up” in the right way with changes in the state of the effect and with whether the cause and effect are characterized in a way that contains irrelevant detail. Specificity is connected both to (...) David Lewis’ notion of “influence” and also with the extent to which a causal relation approximates to the ideal of one cause–one effect. Interrelations among these notions and their possible biological significance are also discussed. (shrink)
This fine collection of essays by a leading philosopher of science presents a defence of integrative pluralism as the best description for the complexity of scientific inquiry today. The tendency of some scientists to unify science by reducing all theories to a few fundamental laws of the most basic particles that populate our universe is ill-suited to the biological sciences, which study multi-component, multi-level, evolved complex systems. This integrative pluralism is the most efficient way to understand the different and complex (...) processes - historical and interactive - that generate biological phenomena. This book will be of interest to students and professionals in the philosophy of science. (shrink)
Is life a purely physical process? What is human nature? Which of our traits is essential to us? In this volume, Daniel McShea and Alex Rosenberg – a biologist and a philosopher, respectively – join forces to create a new gateway to the philosophy of biology; making the major issues accessible and relevant to biologists and philosophers alike. Exploring concepts such as supervenience; the controversies about genocentrism and genetic determinism; and the debate about major transitions central to contemporary thinking (...) about macroevolution; the authors lay out the broad terms in which we should assess the impact of biology on human capacities, social institutions and ethical values. (shrink)
Critics of multiple realizability have recently argued that we should concentrate solely on actual here-and-now realizations that are found in nature. The possibility of alternative, but unactualized, realizations is regarded as uninteresting because it is taken to be a question of pure logic or an unverifiable scenario of science fiction. However, in the biological context only a contingent set of realizations is actualized. Drawing on recent work on the theory of neutral biological spaces, the paper shows that we can have (...) ways of assessing the modal dimension of multiple realizability that do not have to rely on mere conceivability. (shrink)
What makes a biological entity an individual? Jack Wilson shows that past philosophers have failed to explicate the conditions an entity must satisfy to be a living individual. He explores the reason for this failure and explains why we should limit ourselves to examples involving real organisms rather than thought experiments. This book explores and resolves paradoxes that arise when one applies past notions of individuality to biological examples beyond the conventional range and presents an analysis of identity and persistence. (...) The book's main purpose is to bring together two lines of research, theoretical biology and metaphysics, which have dealt with the same subject in isolation from one another. Wilson explains an alternative theory about biological individuality which solves problems which cannot be addressed by either field alone. He presents a more fine-grained vocabulary of individuation based on diverse kinds of living things, allowing him to clarify previously muddled disputes about individuality in biology. (shrink)
Following in the fashion of Stephen Jay Gould and Peter Medawar, one of the world's leading scientists examines how "pure science" is in fact shaped and guided by social and political needs and assumptions.
Biological atomism postulates that all life is composed of elementary and indivisible vital units. The activity of a living organism is thus conceived as the result of the activities and interactions of its elementary constituents, each of which individually already exhibits all the attributes proper to life. This paper surveys some of the key episodes in the history of biological atomism, and situates cell theory within this tradition. The atomistic foundations of cell theory are subsequently dissected and discussed, together with (...) the theory’s conceptual development and eventual consolidation. This paper then examines the major criticisms that have been waged against cell theory, and argues that these too can be interpreted through the prism of biological atomism as attempts to relocate the true biological atom away from the cell to a level of organization above or below it. Overall, biological atomism provides a useful perspective through which to examine the history and philosophy of cell theory, and it also opens up a new way of thinking about the epistemic decomposition of living organisms that significantly departs from the physicochemical reductionism of mechanistic biology. (shrink)
This paper examines David Hull’s and Peter Godfrey-Smith’s accounts of biological individuality using the case of biofilms. Biofilms fail standard criteria for individuality, such as having reproductive bottlenecks and forming parent-offspring lineages. Nevertheless, biofilms are good candidates for individuals. The nature of biofilms shows that Godfrey-Smith’s account of individuality, with its reliance on reproduction, is too restrictive. Hull’s interactor notion of individuality better captures biofilms, and we argue that it offers a better account of biological individuality. However, Hull’s notion of (...) interactor needs more precision. We suggest some ways to make Hull’s notion of interactor and his account of individuality more precise. Generally, we maintain that biofilms are a good test case for theories of individuality, and a careful examination of biofilms furthers our understanding of biological individuality. (shrink)
The article defends the doctrine that Linnaean taxa, including species, have essences that are, at least partly, underlying intrinsic, mostly genetic, properties. The consensus among philosophers of biology is that such essentialism is deeply wrong, indeed incompatible with Darwinism. I argue that biological generalizations about the morphology, physiology, and behavior of species require structural explanations that must advert to these essential properties. The objection that, according to current “species concepts,” species are relational is rejected. These concepts are primarily concerned (...) with what it is for a kind to be a species and throw little light on the essentialist issue of what it is for an organism to be a member of a particular kind. Finally, the article argues that this essentialism can accommodate features of Darwinism associated with variation and change. (shrink)
Systems Biology and the Modern Synthesis are recent versions of two classical biological paradigms that are known as structuralism and functionalism, or internalism and externalism. According to functionalism (or externalism), living matter is a fundamentally passive entity that owes its organization to external forces (functions that shape organs) or to an external organizing agent (natural selection). Structuralism (or internalism), is the view that living matter is an intrinsically active entity that is capable of organizing itself from within, with purely (...) internal processes that are based on mathematical principles and physical laws. At the molecular level, the basic mechanism of the Modern Synthesis is molecular copying, the process that leads in the short run to heredity and in the long run to natural selection. The basic mechanism of Systems Biology, instead, is self-assembly, the process by which many supramolecular structures are formed by the spontaneous aggregation of their components. In addition to molecular copying and self-assembly, however, molecular biology has uncovered also a third great mechanism at the heart of life. The existence of the genetic code and of many other organic codes in Nature tells us that molecular coding is a biological reality and we need therefore a framework that accounts for it. This framework is Code biology, the study of the codes of life, a new field of research that brings to light an entirely new dimension of the living world and gives us a completely new understanding of the origin and the evolution of life. (shrink)
Recently something close to a consensus about the best way to naturalize the notion of biological function appears to be emerging. Nonetheless, teleological notions in biology remain controversial. In this paper we provide a naturalistic analysis for the notion of natural design. Many authors assume that natural design should be assimilated directly to function. Others find the notion problematic because it suggests that evolution is a directed process. We argue that both of these views are mistaken. Our naturalistic account (...) does not simply equate design with function. We argue that the distinction between function and design is important for understanding the evolution of the physical and behavioral traits of organisms. (shrink)
Vertebrate paleontology was not readily incorporated into interdisciplinary activities at the University of Chicago. During the university’s first forty years serious disputes arose over the subject’s parameters and departmental affiliation. Only after World War II did a cooperative, interdisciplinary program emerge. Changes in biology and geology influenced that development, but even more important were local research and educational initiatives that provided the impetus and resources to create an innovative program.
In this paper I argue that we can best make sense of the practice of experimental evolutionary biology if we see it as investigating contingent, rather than lawlike, regularities. This understanding is contrasted with the experimental practice of certain areas of physics. However, this presents a problem for those who accept the Logical Positivist conception of law and its essential role in scientific explanation. I address this problem by arguing that the contingent regularities of evolutionary biology have a (...) limited range of nomic necessity and a limited range of explanatory power even though they lack the unlimited projectibility that has been seen by some as a hallmark of scientific laws. (shrink)
The Problem of Biological Individuality is the problem of how to count organisms. Whilst counting organisms may seem easy, the biological world is full of difficult cases such as colonial siphonophores and aspen tree groves. One of the main solutions to the Problem of Biological Individuality is the Physiological Approach. Drawing on an argument made by Eric Olson in the personal identity debate, I argue that the Physiological Approach faces a metaphysical problem - the ‘Foetus Problem’. This paper illustrates how (...) metaphysics can contribute to debates about organisms in the philosophy of biology. (shrink)
Perceptions "present" objects as red, as round, etc.-- in general as possessing some property. This is the "perceptual content" of the title, And the article attempts to answer the following question: what is a materialistically adequate basis for assigning content to what are, after all, neurophysiological states of biological organisms? The thesis is that a state is a perception that presents its object as "F" if the "biological function" of the state is to detect the presence of objects that are (...) "F". The theory contrasts with causal/informational theories, and with internalist theories, for example those which assign content on the basis of introspected feel. Its advantages are that it permits perceptual error while at the same time allowing content to be expressed in terms of external properties. The argument of the paper is illustrated throughout by examples from biology and computational psychology. (shrink)
Evolutionary biology and feminism share a variety of philosophical and practical concerns. I have tried to describe how a perspective from both evolutionary biology and feminism can accelerate the achievement of goals for both feminists and evolutionary biologists. In an early section of this paper I discuss the importance of variation to the disciplines of evolutionary biology and feminism. In the section entitled “Control of Female Reproduction” I demonstrate how insight provided by participation in life as woman (...) and also as a feminist suggests testable hypotheses about the evolution of social behavior—hypotheses that are applicable to our investigations of the evolution of social behavior in nonhuman animals. In the section on “Deceit, Self-deception, and Patriarchal Reversals” I have overtly conceded that evolutionary biology, a scientific discipline, also represents a human cultural practice that, like other human cultural practices, may in parts and at times be characterized by deceit and self-deception. In the section on “Femininity” I have indicated how questions cast and answered and hypotheses tested from an evolutionary perspective can serve women and men struggling with sexist oppression. (shrink)
Waters’s (2007) actual difference making and Weber’s (2013, 2017) biological normality approaches to causal selection have received many criticisms, some of which miss their target. Disagreement about whether Waters’s and Weber’s views succeed in providing criteria that uniquely singles out the gene as explanatorily significant in biology has led philosophers to overlook a prior problem. Before one can address whether Waters’s and Weber’s views successfully account for the explanatory significance of genes, one must ask whether either view satisfactorily meets (...) the necessary conditions for causal selection in the first place. An adequate defense of causal selection must meet two desiderata. First, there must be an explanatory property that sets some causes apart from others. Second, the property identified must be one that is recognized by biologists as relevant to their domain(s) of inquiry. I argue that both fall short of meeting the second condition. I demonstrate this by showing how many of the biological technologies crucial to experimentation do not fit either view very well. I offer a more adequate proposal that accommodates non-actual and artificial causal variables. A consequence of my view is the following: When analyzing the causal selection practices of biologists, philosophers should consider the explanatory targets relevant to a research program – including ones whose explanans must appeal to biological technologies. I then explain how this proposal can inform the existing debate between Weber (2017) and Griffiths et al. (2015). (shrink)
Biological regulation is what allows an organism to handle the effects of a perturbation, modulating its own constitutive dynamics in response to particular changes in internal and external conditions. With the central focus of analysis on the case of minimal living systems, we argue that regulation consists in a specific form of second-order control, exerted over the core regime of production and maintenance of the components that actually put together the organism. The main argument is that regulation requires a distinctive (...) architecture of functional relationships, and specifically the action of a dedicated subsystem whose activity is dynamically decoupled from that of the constitutive regime. We distinguish between two major ways in which control mechanisms contribute to the maintenance of a biological organisation in response to internal and external perturbations: dynamic stability and regulation. Based on this distinction an explicit definition and a set of organisational requirements for regulation are provided, and thoroughly illustrated through the examples of bacterial chemotaxis and the lac-operon. The analysis enables us to mark out the differences between regulation and closely related concepts such as feedback, robustness and homeostasis. (shrink)
In this book, Esposito presents a historiography of organicist and holistic thought through an examination of the work of leading biologists from Britain and America. He shows how this work relates to earlier Romantic tradition and sets it within the wider context of the history and philosophy of the life sciences.
Race was once thought to be a real biological kind. Today the dominant view is that objective biological races don't exist. I challenge the trend to reject the biological reality of race by arguing that cladism (a school of classification that individuates taxa by appeal to common ancestry) provides a new way to define race biologically. I also reconcile the proposed biological conception with constructivist theories about race. Most constructivists assume that biological realism and social constructivism are incompatible views about (...) race; I argue that the two conceptions can be compatible. (shrink)
Biological theory demands a clear organism concept, but at present biologists cannot agree on one. They know that counting particular units, and not counting others, allows them to generate explanatory and predictive descriptions of evolutionary processes. Yet they lack a unified theory telling them which units to count. In this paper, I offer a novel account of biological individuality, which reconciles conflicting definitions of ‘organism’ by interpreting them as describing alternative realisers of a common functional role, and then defines individual (...) organisms as essentially possessing some mechanisms that play this role. (shrink)
The impressive variation amongst biological individuals generates many complexities in addressing the simple-sounding question what is a biological individual? A distinction between evolutionary and physiological individuals is useful in thinking about biological individuals, as is attention to the kinds of groups, such as superorganisms and species, that have sometimes been thought of as biological individuals. More fully understanding the conceptual space that biological individuals occupy also involves considering a range of other concepts, such as life, reproduction, and agency. There has (...) been a focus in some recent discussions by both philosophers and biologists on how evolutionary individuals are created and regulated, as well as continuing work on the evolution of individuality. (shrink)
The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues released its first report, New Directions: The Ethics of Synthetic Biology and Emerging Technologies, on December 16, 2010.1 President Barack Obama had requested this report following the announcement last year that the J. Craig Venter Institute had created the world’s first self-replicating bacterial cell with a completely synthetic genome. The Venter group’s announcement marked a significant scientific milestone in synthetic biology, an emerging field of research that aims to combine (...) the knowledge and methods of biology, engineering, and related disciplines in the design of chemically synthesized DNA to create organisms with novel or enhanced .. (shrink)
Reasoning in Biological Discoveries brings together a series of essays, which focus on one of the most heavily debated topics of scientific discovery. Collected together and richly illustrated, Darden's essays represent a groundbreaking foray into one of the major problems facing scientists and philosophers of science. Divided into three sections, the essays focus on broad themes, notably historical and philosophical issues at play in discussions of biological mechanism; and the problem of developing and refining reasoning strategies, including interfield relations and (...) anomaly resolution. Darden summarizes the philosophy of discovery and elaborates on the role that mechanisms play in biological discovery. Throughout the book, she uses historical case studies to extract advisory reasoning strategies for discovery. Examples in genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, immunology, neuroscience and evolutionary biology reveal the process of discovery in action. (shrink)
Elliott Sober is one of the leading philosophers of science and is a former winner of the Lakatos Prize, the major award in the field. This new collection of essays will appeal to a readership that extends well beyond the frontiers of the philosophy of science. Sober shows how ideas in evolutionary biology bear in significant ways on traditional problems in philosophy of mind and language, epistemology, and metaphysics. Amongst the topics addressed are psychological egoism, solipsism, and the interpretation (...) of belief and utterance, empiricism, Ockham's razor, causality, essentialism, and scientific laws. The collection will prove invaluable to a wide range of philosophers, primarily those working in the philosophy of science, the philosophy of mind, and epistemology. (shrink)
This paper gives an account of evolutionary explanations in biology. Briefly, the explanations I am primarily concerned with are explanations of adaptations. These explanations are contrasted with other nonteleological evolutionary explanations. The distinction is made by distinguishing the different kinds of questions these different explanations serve to answer. The sense in which explanations of adaptations are teleological is spelled out.
We defend a view of the distinction between the normal and the pathological according to which that distinction has an objective, biological component. We accept that there is a normative component to the concept of disease, especially as applied to human beings. Nevertheless, an organism cannot be in a pathological state unless something has gone wrong for that organism from a purely biological point of view. Biology, we argue, recognises two sources of biological normativity, which jointly generate four “ways (...) of going wrong” from a biological perspective. These findings show why previous attempts to provide objective criteria for pathology have fallen short: Biological science recognizes a broader range of ways in which living things can do better or worse than has previously been recognized in the philosophy of medicine. (shrink)