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Encyclopedia > Philosophy of biology

Philosophy of biology (also called, rarely, biophilosophy) is a subfield of philosophy of science, which deals with epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical issues in the biological and biomedical sciences. Although philosophers of science and philosophers generally have long been interested in biology (e.g., Aristotle, Descartes, and even Kant), philosophy of biology only emerged as an independent field of philosophy in the 1960s and 1970s. Philosophers of science then began paying increasing attention to developments in biology, from the rise of Neodarwinism in the 1930s and 1940s to the discovery of the structure of Deoxyribonucleic acid in 1953 to more recent advances in genetic engineering. Other key ideas such as the reduction of all life processes to biochemical reactions as well as the incorporation of psychology into a broader neuroscience are also addressed. Philosophy of science studies the philosophical assumptions, foundations, and implications of science, including the formal sciences, natural sciences, and social sciences. ... Aristotle (Greek: AristotélÄ“s) (384 BC – March 7, 322 BC) was a Greek philosopher, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. ... René Descartes René Descartes (IPA: , March 31, 1596 – February 11, 1650), also known as Cartesius, worked as a philosopher and mathematician. ... Immanuel Kant Immanuel Kant (April 22, 1724 – February 12, 1804) was a Prussian philosopher, generally regarded as one of Europes most influential thinkers and the last major philosopher of the Enlightenment. ... The 1960s decade refers to the years from January 1, 1960 to December 31, 1969, inclusive. ... The 1970s decade refers to the years from 1970 to 1979, inclusive. ... The modern evolutionary synthesis (often referred to simply as the modern synthesis), neo-Darwinian synthesis or neo-Darwinism, brings together Charles Darwins theory of the evolution of species by natural selection with Gregor Mendels theory of genetics as the basis for biological inheritance. ... The 1930s (years from 1930–1939) were described as an abrupt shift to more radical and conservative lifestyles, as countries were struggling to find a solution to the Great Depression, also known in Europe as the World Depression. ... The 1940s decade ran from 1940 to 1949. ... DNA replication Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is a nucleic acid which carries genetic instructions for the biological development of all cellular forms of life and many viruses. ... 1953 (MCMLIII) was a common year starting on Thursday. ... An iconic image of genetic engineering; this autoluminograph from 1986 of a glowing transgenic tobacco plant bearing the luciferase, illustrating the possibilities of genetic engineering. ... Reduction is the process by which one object, property, concept, theory, etc. ... Biochemistry is the chemistry of life. ... Psychology is an academic and applied discipline involving the scientific study of mental processes and behavior. ... Drawing of the cells in the chicken cerebellum by S. Ramón y Cajal Neuroscience is a field that is devoted to the scientific study of the nervous system. ...



Philosophy of biology today has become a very visible, well-organized discipline - with its own journals, conferences, and professional organizations. Generally, these authors could be seen as following an empiristic tradition, favoring naturalistic and physicalistic theories over their counterparts. Many contemporary philosophers of biology have largely avoided traditional questions about the distinction between life and non-life. Instead, they have examined the practices, theories, and concepts of biologists with a view toward better understanding biology as a scientific discipline (or group of scientific fields). Scientific ideas are handled as philosophical ones and the consequences are explored. Thus, it is sometimes difficult to delineate genuine biophilosophical works from popular scientific accounts of biological research. A few of the questions philosophers of biology have attempted to answer, for example, include: In philosophy generally, empiricism is a theory of knowledge emphasizing the role of experience. ... Naturalism is any of several philosophical stances, typically those descended from materialism and pragmatism, that reject the validity of explanations or theories making use of entities inaccessible to natural science. ... The term physicalism was coined by Otto Neurath, in a series of early 20th century essays on the subject, in which he wrote According to physicalism, the language of physics is the universal language of science and, consequently, any knowledge can be brought back to the statements on the physical... This article or section is not written in the formal tone expected of an encyclopedia article. ... The word theory has a number of distinct meanings in different fields of knowledge, depending on their methodologies and the context of discussion. ... For the scientific journal named Science, see Science (journal). ... This article is not about the magazine, Popular Science Popular science is interpretation of science intended for a general audience, rather than for other scientists or students. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... Research is often described as an active, diligent, and systematic process of inquiry aimed at discovering, interpreting, and revising facts. ...

  • "How is ecology related to medicine?"
  • "What is a biological species?"
  • "How is rationality possible, given our biological origins?"
  • "How might our biological understandings of race, sexuality, and gender reflect social values?"
  • "What is natural selection, and how does it operate in nature?"
  • "How do medical doctors explain disease?"
  • "Where do language and logic stem from?";
  • "What is the material basis of consciousness?"

A subset of these philosophers with a more explicitly philosophical, less empirical orientation hope that biology is able to provide scientific answers to such fundamental problems of epistemology, ethics, aesthetics, anthropology and even metaphysics. Furthermore, progress in biology urges modern societies to rethink traditional values concerning all aspects of human life. The possibility of genetic modification of human stem cells, for example, has led to an ongoing controversy on how certain biological techniques could infringe upon ethical consensus (see bioethics). Some more explicitly philosophical questions are addressed by some philosophers of biology including: Ernst Haeckel coined the term oekologie in 1866. ... medicines, see medication and pharmacology. ... In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biodiversity. ... This article concerns the term race as used in reference to human beings. ... In common usage, the word gender often refers to the sexual distinction between male and female. ... It has been suggested that Refractory disease be merged into this article or section. ... Logic, from Classical Greek λόγος logos (the word), is the study of patterns found in reasoning. ... Consciousness is a quality of the mind generally regarded to comprise qualities such as subjectivity, self-awareness, sentience, sapience, and the ability to perceive the relationship between oneself and ones environment. ... The term natural science as the way in which different fields of study are defined is determined as much by historical convention as by the present day meaning of the words. ... This article does not cite its references or sources. ... Ethics (from the Ancient Greek ἠθικός (ethikos), meaning theory of living), a major branch of philosophy, is the study of values and customs of a person or group and covers the analysis and employment of concepts such as right, wrong, good, evil, and responsibility. ... The Parthenons facade showing an interpretation of golden rectangles in its proportions. ... Anthropolology (from the Greek word , man or person+knowledge) consists of the study of humanity (see genus Homo). ... Plato and Aristotle (right), by Raphael (Stanza della Segnatura, Rome). ... Trinomial name Homo sapiens sapiens Linnaeus, 1758 Humans, or human beings, are bipedal primates belonging to the mammalian species Homo sapiens (Latin: wise man or knowing man) under the family Hominidae (the great apes). ... This article or section is not written in the formal tone expected of an encyclopedia article. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... Mouse embryonic stem cells. ... Bioethics is the ethics of biological science and medicine. ...

  • "What is life?"
  • "What makes humans uniquely human?";
  • "What is the basis of moral thinking?";
  • "What are the factors we use for aesthetic judgements?";
  • "Is evolution compatible with Christianity or other religious systems?"

Increasingly, ideas drawn from philosophical ontology and logic are being used by biologists in the domain of bioinformatics. Ontologies such as the Gene Ontology are being used to annotate the results of biological experiments in a variety of model organisms in order to create logically tractable bodies of data available for reasoning and search. The Gene Ontology itself is a species-neutral graph-theoretical representation of biological types joined together by formally defined relations. The Parthenons facade showing an interpretation of golden rectangles in its proportions. ... Christianity is a monotheistic[1] religion centered on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in the New Testament. ... Various Religious symbols, including (first row) Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Bahai, (second row) Islamic, tribal, Taoist, Shinto (third row) Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Jain, (fourth row) Ayyavazhi, Triple Goddess, Maltese cross, pre-Christian Slavonic Religion is the adherence to codified beliefs and rituals that generally involve a faith in a spiritual... In philosophy, ontology (from the Greek , genitive : of being (part. ... Map of the human X chromosome (from the NCBI website). ...

Reductionism, holism, and vitalism

One subject within philosophy of biology deals with the relationship between reductionism and holism, contending views with epistemological and methodological significance, but also with ethical and metaphysical connotations. This article does not cite its references or sources. ...

  • Scientific reductionism is the view that higher-level processes can generally be better understood by looking at their constituent lower-level processes. For example, if we reduce the circulatory system to the dynamics of its parts rather than viewing it as a whole, it becomes evident it flows because the heart pumps its blood.
  • Holism is the view that emphasizes higher-level processes, also called emergent properties: phenomena at a larger level that occur due to the pattern of interactions between the elements of a system over time. For example, if we wanted to explain why one species of finch survived a draught while others died out, the holistic method looks at the entire ecosystem as a whole. Reducing an ecosystem to its parts in this case would be less effective at explaining overall behavior (in this case, the decrease in biodiversity). See also Holism in science)
  • Vitalism is the view, rejected by mainstream biologists since the 19th century, that there is a life-force (called the "vis viva") that has thus far been unmeasurable scientifically that gives living organisms their "life." Vitalists often claimed that the vis viva acts with purposes according to its pre-established "form." (see teleology.) Examples of vitalist philosophy are found in many religions. Mainstream biologists reject vitalism because they subcribe to the scientific method. The scientific method was designed as a methodology to build an extremely reliable understanding of the world, that is, a supportable, evidenced understanding. Following this epistemological view, mainstream scientists reject phenomenon that haven't been scientifically measured, and thus reject vitalist explanations.

Some philosophers of biology have attempted to explain the rise and fall of reductionism, vitalism, and holism throughout the history of biology. For example, these philosophers claim that the ideas of Charles Darwin ended the last remainders of teleological views from biology. Debates in these areas of philosophy of biology turn on how one views reductionism. The term scientific reductionism has been used to describe various reductionist ideas about science. ... Holism (from holos, a Greek word meaning all, entire, total) is the idea that all the properties of a given system (biological, chemical, social, economic, mental, linguistic, etc. ... ... Holism in science, or Holistic science, is an approach to research that emphasizes the study of complex systems. ... Vitalism is the doctrine that vital forces are active in living organisms, so that life cannot be explained solely by mechanism. ... Alternative meaning: Nineteenth Century (periodical) (18th century — 19th century — 20th century — more centuries) As a means of recording the passage of time, the 19th century was that century which lasted from 1801-1900 in the sense of the Gregorian calendar. ... Also called Od [õd] and Odyle, Odic Force is the 19th century name given to a hypothetical vital energy or life force that proponents say permeates all living plants, animals, and humans. ... Teleology (telos: end, purpose) is the philosophical study of design, purpose, directive principle, or finality in nature or human creations. ... Scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena and acquiring new knowledge, as well as for correcting and integrating previous knowledge. ... An abstract model (or conceptual model) is a theoretical construct that represents physical, biological or social processes, with a set of variables and a set of logical and quantitative relationships between them. ... Evidence has several meanings as indicated below. ... Charles Robert Darwin (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an eminent English naturalist who achieved lasting fame by convincing the scientific community that species develop over time from a common origin. ... Teleology is the philosophical study of purpose (from the Greek teleos, perfect, complete, which in turn comes from telos, end, result). ...

An autonomous philosophy of biology

All processes in organisms obey physical laws, the difference from inanimate processes lying in their organisation and their being subject to control by coded information. This has led some biologists and philosophers (for example, Ernst Mayr and David Hull) to return to the strictly philosophical reflections of Charles Darwin to resolve some of the problems which confronted them when they tried to employ a philosophy of science derived from classical physics. This latter, positivist approach emphasised a strict determinism (as opposed to high probability) and to the discovery of universally applicable laws, testable in the course of experiment. It was difficult for biology, beyond a basic microbiological level, to live up to these strictures - Karl Popper for example said in 1974 that "Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research programme." Standard philosophy of science seemed to leave out a lot of what characterised living organisms - namely, a historical component in the form of an inherited genotype. This article has been identified as possibly containing errors. ... David Hull is a philosopher with a particular interest in the Philosophy of biology. ... Charles Robert Darwin (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an eminent English naturalist who achieved lasting fame by convincing the scientific community that species develop over time from a common origin. ... Classical physics is physics based on principles developed before the rise of quantum theory, usually including the special theory of relativity and general theory of relativity. ... This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists other pages that might otherwise share the same title. ... Sir Karl Raimund Popper, CH, MA, Ph. ...

Biologists with philosophic interests responded, emphasising the dual nature of the living organism. On the one hand there was the genetic programme (represented in nucleic acids) - the genotype. On the other there was its extended body or soma - the phenotype. In accommodating the more probabilistic and non-universal nature of biological generalisations, it was a help that standard philosophy of science was in the process of accommodating similar aspects of 20th century physics. The genotype is the specific genetic makeup (the specific genome) of an individual, in the form of DNA. Together with the environmental variation that influences the individual, it codes for the phenotype of that individual. ... Individuals in the mollusk species Donax variabilis show diverse coloration and patterning in their phenotypes. ... (19th century - 20th century - 21st century - more centuries) Decades: 1900s 1910s 1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s As a means of recording the passage of time, the 20th century was that century which lasted from 1901–2000 in the sense of the Gregorian calendar (1900–1999... Physics (from the Greek, (phúsis), nature and (phusiké), knowledge of nature) is the science concerned with the discovery and understanding of the fundamental laws which govern matter, energy, space, and time. ...

This led to a distinction between proximate causes and explanations - "how" questions dealing with the phenotype; and ultimate causes - "why" questions, including evolutionary causes, focused on the genotype. This clarification was part of the great reconciliation, by Ernst Mayr, among others, in the 1940s, between Darwinian evolution by natural selection and the genetic model of inheritance. A commitment to conceptual clarification has characterised many of these philosophers since. Trivially, this has reminded us of the scientific basis of all biology, while noting its diversity - from microbiology to ecology. A complete philosophy of biology would need to accommodate all these activities. Less trivially, it has unpacked the notion of "teleology". Since 1859, scientists have had no need for a notion of cosmic teleology - a programme or a law that can explain and predict evolution. Darwin provided that. But teleological explanations (relating to purpose or function) have remained stubbornly useful in biology - from the structural configuration of macromolecules to the study of co-operation in social systems. By clarifying and restricting the use of the term to describe and explain systems controlled strictly scientifically by genetic programmes, or other physical systems, teleological questions can be framed and investigated while remaining committed to the physical nature of all underlying organic processes. This article has been identified as possibly containing errors. ... This article is about biological evolution. ... The Galápagos Islands hold 13 species of finches that are closely related and differ most markedly in the shape of their beaks. ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... Teleology (telos: end, purpose) is the philosophical study of design, purpose, directive principle, or finality in nature or human creations. ... A macromolecule is a molecule composed of a very large number of atoms. ...

Similar attention has been given to the concepts of natural selection (what is the target of natural selection? - the individual? the genome? the species?); adaptation; diversity and classification; species and speciation; and macroevolution. The Galápagos Islands hold 13 species of finches that are closely related and differ most markedly in the shape of their beaks. ... A biological adaptation is an anatomical structure, physiological process or behavioral trait of an organism that has evolved over a period of time by the process of natural selection such that it increases the expected long-term reproductive success of the organism. ... Diversity is the presence of a wide range of variation in the qualities or attributes under discussion. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged into Concept mining. ... In biology, a species is one of the basic units of biodiversity. ... Charles Darwins first sketch of an evolutionary tree from his First Notebook on Transmutation of Species (1837) Speciation is the evolutionary process by which new biological species arise. ... Macroevolution refers to evolution that occurs at or above the level of species, in contrast with microevolution, which refers to smaller evolutionary changes (typically described as changes in allele frequencies) within a species or population. ...

Just as biology has developed as an autonomous discipline in full conversation with the other sciences, there is a great deal of work now being carried on by biologists and philosophers to develop a dedicated philosophy of biological science which, while in full conversation with all other philosophic disciplines, attempts to give answers to the real questions raised by scientific investigations in biology. This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ...

Other perspectives on the Philosophy of Biology

While the overwhelming majority of English-speaking scholars operating under the banner of "philosophy of biology" work within the Anglo-American tradition of Analytical Philosophy, there is a stream of philosophic work in Continental philosophy which seeks to deal with issues deriving from biological science. The communication difficulties involved between these two traditions are well known, not helped by differences in language. Gerhard Vollmer is often thought of as a bridge but, despite his education and residence in Germany, he largely works in the Anglo-American tradition, particularly Pragmatism, and is famous for his development of Lorenz's and Quine's idea of Evolutionary Epistemology. On the other hand, one Harvard University scholar who has attempted to give a more Continental account of the philosophy of biology is Hans Jonas. His "The Phenomenon of Life" (New York, 1966) sets out boldly to offer an "existential interpretation of biological facts", starting with the organism's response to stimulus and ending with man confronting the Universe, and drawing upon a detailed reading of phenomenology. This is unlikely to have much influence on mainstream philosophy of biology, but indicates, as does Vollmer's work, the current powerful influence of biological thought on philosophy. A more engaging account is given by the Chicago philosopher Marjorie Grene. See Anglo-America for the term denoting mixed English and American influence or heritage or those parts of (or groups within) America which have a tie to or which are influenced by England or simply English-speaking America. ... Analytic philosophy is the dominant philosophical movement of English-speaking countries. ... Continental philosophy is a term used in philosophy to designate one of two major traditions of modern Western philosophy. ... Gerhard Vollmer (born 17 November 1943 in Speyer) is a German physicist and philosopher. ... For themes emphasized by Charles Peirce, see Pragmaticism. ... Lorenz being followed by his imprinted geese Konrad Zacharias Lorenz (November 7, 1903 in Vienna – February 27, 1989 in Vienna) was an Austrian zoologist, animal psychologist, and ornithologist. ... In computing, a quine is a program (a form of metaprogram) that produces its complete source code as its only output. ... Evolutionary epistemology is a theory, in metaphysics, applying the concepts of biological evolution to the growth of human knowledge and, in particular, scientific theories. ... Harvard redirects here. ... German-born philosopher Hans Jonas (May 10, 1903 - February 5, 1993) studied under Martin Heidegger and Rudolf Bultmann in the 1920s. ... 1966 (MCMLXVI) was a common year starting on Saturday (the link is to a full 1966 calendar). ... This article or section does not cite its references or sources. ... This article is about the philosophical movement. ... Nickname: The Windy City, The Second City, Chi Town, City of the Big Shoulders, The 312, The City that Works Motto: Urbs In Horto (Latin: City in a Garden), I Will Location in Chicagoland and Illinois Coordinates: Country United States State Illinois County Cook & DuPage Incorporated March 4, 1837  - Mayor... Marjorie Glicksman Grene (born 1910) is an American philosopher. ...

See also

Bioethics is the ethics of biological science and medicine. ... Biosemiotics (bios=life & semion=sign) is a growing field that studies the production, action and interpretation of signs in the physical and biologic realm, in an attempt to integrate the findings of scientific biology and semiotics to form a new view of life and meaning as immanent features of the... This article is about biological evolution. ... Evolutionary psychology (abbreviated ev-psych or EP) is a theoretical approach to psychology that attempts to explain certain mental and psychological traits—such as memory, perception, or language—as evolved adaptations, i. ... Neuroesthetics is a rapidly growing subdiscipline of neuroscience seeking to explain and understand the esthetics of domains such as art and music on a neurological basis. ... The philosophy of chemistry considers the methodology and underlying assumptions of the science of chemistry. ... A Phrenological mapping of the brain. ... Philosophy of physics is the study of the fundamental, philosophical questions underlying modern physics, the study of matter and energy and how they interact. ... Philosophy of science studies the philosophical assumptions, foundations, and implications of science, including the formal sciences, natural sciences, and social sciences. ... Sociobiology is a synthesis of scientific disciplines that explains behaviour in all species by considering the evolutionary advantages of social behaviours. ...

Philosophers using biological ideas as a basis of their work

Henri-Louis Bergson (October 18, 1859–January 4, 1941) was a major French philosopher, influential in the first half of the 20th century. ... Mario Augusto Bunge (born September 21, 1919, Buenos Aires) is an Argentinian philosopher and physicist mainly active in Canada. ... Donald T. Campbell (November 20, 1916 - May 5, 1996) was an American social scientist. ... Georges Canguilhem (Castelnaudary 1904-1995) was a French philosopher and member of the Collège de France, who specialized in the philosophy of science. ... Daniel Clement Dennett (b. ... David Hull is a philosopher with a particular interest in the Philosophy of biology. ... Philip Stuart Kitcher (born 1947) is a British philosophy professor who specializes in the philosophy of science. ... Elisabeth Anne Lloyd (born 3 September 1956, Morristown, New Jersey, USA) is philosopher of biology. ... Robert Richardson, A.S.C. is an American cinematographer from Hyannis, Massachusetts. ... Alexander Rosenberg is an American philosopher, and the R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy at Duke University. ... Michael Ruse (born June 21, 1940 in Birmingham, England) is a philosopher of science, a professor of philosophy and zoology largely concerned with the argument between creationism and evolutionary biology. ... Arthur Schopenhauer (February 22, 1788 – September 21, 1860, [1] IPA: ) was a German philosopher, often considered a pessimist. ... Several notable people are named Barry Smith: Barry Smith, an ontologist at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York Barry Windsor-Smith, a comics artist Barry Thomas Smith, a comics artist Barry Smith (musician) Barry Smith, preacher from New Zealand Barry Smith (AKA Barry Seven), former member... Elliott Sober -- Hans Reichenbach Professor and William F. Vilas Research Professor in the Department of Philosophy at University of Wisconsin. ... Gerhard Vollmer (born 17 November 1943 in Speyer) is a German physicist and philosopher. ... Robert Wilson (dramatist) was an Elizabethan dramatist. ...

Biologists who have attempted to give a philosophic account of biological thought

This article has been identified as possibly containing errors. ... It has been suggested that Darwinian Fundamentalism be merged into this article or section. ...

Reference Materials

  • Mahner, Martin., Bunge, Mario.(1997) Foundations of Biophilosophy ISBN 3-540-61838-4

1997 (MCMXCVII) was a common year starting on Wednesday of the Gregorian calendar. ...


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