•  450
    Reductionism in biology
    with Ingo Brigandt
    The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2008.
    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 t…Read more
  •  207
    According to Joshua Alexander, philosophers use intuitions routinely as a form of evidence to test philosophical theories but experimental philosophy demonstrates that these intuitions are unreliable and unrepresentative.1 According to Herman Cappelen, philosophers never use intuitions as evidence (despite the vacuous sentential leader ‘intuitively’) and experimental philosophy lacks a rationale for its much-touted existence.2 That two books are diametrically opposed on methodology in philosophy…Read more
  •  163
    Evolvability, plausibility, and possibility (review)
    BioScience 56. 2006.
    Judgments of plausibility involve appearance of the truth or reasonableness, which is always a function of background knowledge. What anyone will countenance is conditioned by what they already know (or think they know). Marc Kirschner (professor of systems biology at Harvard) and John Gerhart (professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California—Berkeley) aim to show that molecular, cellular, and developmental processes relevant to the generation of phenotypic variation in an…Read more
  •  146
    Multilevel Research Strategies and Biological Systems
    with Maureen A. O'Malley, Ingo Brigandt, John W. Crawford, Jack A. Gilbert, Rob Knight, Sandra D. Mitchell, and Forest Rohwer
    Philosophy of Science 81 (5): 811-828. 2014.
    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 represent…Read more
  •  135
    Philosophy in the Trenches: Reflections on The Eugenic Mind Project
    Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology 10. 2018.
    Robert Wilson’s The Eugenic Mind Project is a major achievement of engaged scholarship and socially relevant philosophy and history of science. It exemplifies the virtues of interdisciplinarity. As principal investigator of the Living Archives on Eugenics in Western Canada project, while employed in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Alberta, Wilson encountered a proverbial big ball of mud with questions and issues that involved local individuals living through a painful set of me…Read more
  •  114
    In Paul Humphreys (ed.), The Oxford Handbook in Philosophy of Science, Oxford University Press. pp. 460-484. 2016.
    Reduction and reductionism have been central philosophical topics in analytic philosophy of science for more than six decades. Together they encompass a diversity of issues from metaphysics and epistemology. This article provides an introduction to the topic that illuminates how contemporary epistemological discussions took their shape historically and limns the contours of concrete cases of reduction in specific natural sciences. The unity of science and the impulse to accomplish compositional …Read more
  •  108
    “Functional homology” appears regularly in different areas of biological research and yet it is apparently a contradiction in terms—homology concerns identity of structure regardless of form and function. I argue that despite this conceptual tension there is a legitimate conception of ‘homology of function’, which can be recovered by utilizing a distinction from pre-Darwinian physiology (use versus activity) to identify an appropriate meaning of ‘function’. This account is directly applicable to…Read more
  •  81
    One foundational question in contemporarybiology is how to `rejoin evolution anddevelopment. The emerging research program(evolutionary developmental biology or`evo-devo) requires a meshing of disciplines,concepts, and explanations that have beendeveloped largely in independence over the pastcentury. In the attempt to comprehend thepresent separation between evolution anddevelopment much attention has been paid to thesplit between genetics and embryology in theearly part of the 20th century with…Read more
  •  79
    Evolvability, dispositions, and intrinsicality
    Philosophy of Science 70 (5): 1015-1027. 2003.
    In this paper I examine a dispositional property that has been receiving increased attention in biology, evolvability. First, I identify three compatible but distinct investigative approaches, distinguish two interpretations of evolvability, and treat the difference between dispositions of individuals versus populations. Second, I explore the relevance of philosophical distinctions about dispositions for evolvability, isolating the assumption that dispositions are intrinsically located. I conclu…Read more
  •  75
    It is a common complaint that antireductionist arguments are primarily negative. Here I describe an alternative nonreductionist epistemology based on considerations taken from multidisciplinary research in biology. The core of this framework consists in seeing investigation as coordinated around sets of problems (problem agendas) that have associated criteria of explanatory adequacy. These ideas are developed in a case study, the explanation of evolutionary innovations and novelties, which demon…Read more
  •  74
    Philosophical Dimensions of Individuality
    with Ingo Brigandt
    In Scott Lidgard & Lynn K. Nyhart (eds.), Biological Individuality: Integrating Scientific, Philosophical, and Historical Perspectives, University of Chicago Press. 2017.
    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 d…Read more
  •  73
    The goal of this paper is to encourage a reconfiguration of the discussion about typology in biology away from the metaphysics of essentialism and toward the epistemology of classifying natural phenomena for the purposes of empirical inquiry. First, I briefly review arguments concerning ‘typological thinking’, essentialism, species, and natural kinds, highlighting their predominantly metaphysical nature. Second, I use a distinction between the aims, strategies, and tactics of science to suggest …Read more
  •  69
    Using the context of controversies surrounding evolutionary developmental biology (EvoDevo) and the possibility of an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis, I provide an account of theory structure as idealized theory presentations that are always incomplete (partial) and shaped by their conceptual content (material rather than formal organization). These two characteristics are salient because the goals that organize and regulate scientific practice, including the activity of using a theory, are hete…Read more
  •  63
    The Idealization of Causation in Mechanistic Explanation
    with Marco J. Nathan
    Philosophy of Science 82 (5): 761-774. 2015.
    Causal relations among components and activities are intentionally misrepresented in mechanistic explanations found routinely across the life sciences. Since several mechanists explicitly advocate accurately representing factors that make a difference to the outcome, these idealizations conflict with the stated rationale for mechanistic explanation. We argue that these idealizations signal an overlooked feature of reasoning in molecular and cell biology—mechanistic explanations do not occur in i…Read more
  •  58
    John Norton’s argument that all formal theories of induction fail raises substantive questions about the philosophical analysis of scientific reasoning. What are the criteria of adequacy for philosophical theories of induction, explanation, or theory structure? Is more than one adequate theory possible? Using a generalized version of Norton’s argument, I demonstrate that the competition between formal and material theories in philosophy of science results from adhering to different criteria of a…Read more
  •  58
    This chapter describes the theoretical implications of Extended Synthesis and addresses the methodological options available for determining aspects of theoretical structure. It uses a “bottom-up” approach focused on evolutionary theory in particular, as opposed to a “top-down” strategy that attempts to characterize the structure of all scientific theories. The chapter shows that there are multiple stable components contained within a broad representation of evolutionary theory. It suggests that…Read more
  •  54
    More worry and less love?
    with Ingo Brigandt, Karola Stotz, Daniel Schweitzer, and Alexander Rosenberg
    Metascience 17 (1): 1-26. 2008.
    Review symposium of Alexander Rosenberg’s Darwinian Reductionism: Or, How to Stop Worrying and Love Molecular Biology [2006]. 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.
  •  53
    If we set aside personal edification, what reasons remain for a philosopher of science to study the intellectual biography of a famous (or infamous) scientist? This question raises familiar and perhaps tired arguments about the relationship between history of science and philosophy of science, but it is also practical: why take the time to digest almost 600 pages devoted to the controversial German zoologist Ernst Haeckel? A preliminary answer is the author. The historical investigations of Robe…Read more
  •  50
    Conceptualizing Evolutionary Novelty: Moving Beyond Definitional Debates
    with Ingo Brigandt
    Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution 318 417-427. 2012.
    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 ano…Read more
  •  46
    Günter Wagner’s Homology, Genes, and Evolutionary Innovation collects and synthesizes a vast array of empirical data, theoretical models, and conceptual analysis to set out a progressive research program with a central theoretical commitment: the genetic theory of homology. This research program diverges from standard approaches in evolutionary biology, provides sharpened contours to explanations of the origin of novelty, and expands the conceptual repertoire of evolutionary developmental biolog…Read more
  •  44
    Review of Marie Kaiser's Reductive Explanation in the Biological Sciences (review)
    Philosophy of Science 85 (3): 523-529. 2018.
    Reductive explanations are psychologically seductive; when given two explanations, people prefer the one that refers to lower-level components or processes to account for the phenomena under consideration even when information about these lower levels is irrelevant (Hopkins, Weisberg, and Taylor 2016). Maybe individuals assume that a reductive explanation is what a scientific explanation should look like (e.g., neuroscience should explain psychology) or presume that information about lower-level…Read more
  •  44
    New Perspectives on Reductionism in Biology
    Philosophy of Science 85 (3): 523-529. 2018.
    Reductive explanations are psychologically seductive; when given two explanations, people prefer the one that refers to lower-level components or processes to account for the phenomena under consideration even when information about these lower levels is irrelevant. Maybe individuals assume that a reductive explanation is what a scientific explanation should look like (e.g., neuroscience should explain psychology) or presume that information about lower-level components or processes is more expl…Read more
  •  40
    Proceedings of the Pittsburgh Workshop in History and Philosophy of Biology, Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh, March 23-24 2001 Session 4: Evolutionary Indeterminism.
  •  36
    The ubiquity of top-down causal explanations within and across the sciences is prima facie evidence for the existence of top-down causation. Much debate has been focused on whether top-down causation is coherent or in conflict with reductionism. Less attention has been given to the question of whether these representations of hierarchical relations pick out a single, common hierarchy. A negative answer to this question undermines a commonplace view that the world is divided into stratified ‘leve…Read more
  •  34
    Alan C. LoveDarwinian calisthenicsAn athlete engages in calisthenics as part of basic training and as a preliminary to more advanced or intense activity. Whether it is stretching, lunges, crunches, or push-ups, routine calisthenics provide a baseline of strength and flexibility that prevent a variety of injuries that might otherwise be incurred. Peter Bowler has spent 40 years doing Darwinian calisthenics, researching and writing on the development of evolutionary ideas with special attention to…Read more
  •  33
    Collaborative explanation, explanatory roles, and scientific explaining in practice
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 52 88-94. 2015.
    Scientific explanation is a perennial topic in philosophy of science, but the literature has fragmented into specialized discussions in different scientific disciplines. An increasing attention to scientific practice by philosophers is (in part) responsible for this fragmentation and has put pressure on criteria of adequacy for philosophical accounts of explanation, usually demanding some form of pluralism. This commentary examines the arguments offered by Fagan and Woody with respect to explana…Read more