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I mentioned above that the reduction of Mendelian genetics to molecular genetics was one of the first topics to be discussed in the philosophy of biology. The reductionist position was revived in a series of important papers by Kenneth Waters Waters ; Waters and debate over the cognitive relationship between the two disciplines continues today, although the question is not now framed as a simple choice between reduction and irreducibility.

Moreover, molecular biology does not have the kind of grand theory based around a set of laws or a set of mathematical models that is familiar from the physical sciences. Another important topic in the philosophy of molecular biology has been the definition of the gene Beurton, Falk and Rheinberger ; Griffiths and Stotz Philosophers have also written extensively on the concept of genetic information, the general tenor of the literature being that it is difficult to reconstruct this idea precisely in a way that does justice to the apparent weight placed on it by molecular biologists Sarkar ; Maynard Smith ; Griffiths ; Jablonka The debate over developmental constraints looked at developmental biology solely from the perspective of whether it could provide answers to evolutionary questions.

The emergence in the 's of a new field promising to unite both kinds of explanation, evolutionary developmental biology, has given rise to a substantial philosophical literature aimed at characterizing this field from a methodological viewpoint Maienschein and Laubichler ; Robert ; Amundson ; Brandon and Sansom Until recently this was a severely underdeveloped field in the philosophy of biology.

This is surprising, because there is obvious potential for all three of the approaches to philosophy of biology discussed above. There is also a substantial body of philosophical work in environmental ethics, and it seems reasonable to suppose that answering the questions that arise there would require a critical examination of ecology and conservation biology.

Grappling with the Futures: Insights from Philosophy, History, and Science, Technology and Society

In fact, an important book which sought to provide just those underpinnings—Kristin Shrader-Frechette and Earl McCoy's Method in Ecology: Strategies for Conservation —was an honorable exception to the philosophical neglect of ecology in earlier decades. In the past decade philosophers have started to remedy the neglect of ecology and a number of major books have appeared Cooper , Ginzburg and Colyvan , Sarkar , MacLaurin and Sterelny Discussion has focused on the troubled relationship between mathematical models and empirical data in ecology, on the idea of ecological stability and the 'balance of nature', and on the definition of biodiversity.

Most work in the philosophy of biology is self-consciously naturalistic, recognizing no profound discontinuity in either method or content between philosophy and science. Ideally, philosophy of biology differs from biology itself not in its knowledge base, but only in the questions it asks. The philosopher aims to engage with the content of biology at a professional level, although typically with greater knowledge of its history than biologists themselves, and less hands-on skills.

It is common for philosophers of biology to have academic credentials in the fields that are the focus of their research, and to be closely involved with scientific collaborators. Philosophy of biology's naturalism and the continuity of its concerns with science itself is shared with much other recent work in the philosophy of science, perhaps most notably in the philosophy of neuroscience Bechtel, Mandik et al.

Even the distinction between the questions of biology and those of philosophy of biology is not absolutely clear. As noted above, philosophers of biology address three types of questions: general questions about the nature of science, conceptual puzzles within biology, and traditional philosophical questions that seem open to illumination from the biosciences.

When addressing the second sort of question, there is no clear distinction between philosophy of biology and theoretical biology. Certainly, the professional skills of the philosopher are as relevant to these internal conceptual puzzles as they are to the other two types of question. All three types of questions can be related to the specific findings of the biological sciences only by complex chains of argument. Valuable edited collections designed to supplement such a text are Elliott Sober's Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology Sober which collects the classic papers on core debates, David Hull and Michael Ruse's The Philosophy of Biology which aims at a comprehensive survey using recent papers , and the Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of Biology Hull and Ruse and Blackwell Companion to the Philosophy of Biology Sarkar and Pultyinski which both consist of essays on key topics by leading authors.

Home Biophilosophy Philosophy of Biology. Wednesday, 19 December Gaia. Philosophy of Biology The growth of philosophical interest in biology over the past thirty years reflects the increasing prominence of the biological sciences in the same period. Pre-history of Philosophy of Biology 2. Three Types of Philosophy of Biology 3. Philosophy of Evolutionary Biology 4. Philosophy of Systematic Biology 5. Philosophy of Molecular Biology 6. Philosophy of Developmental Biology 7. Philosophy of Ecology and Conservation Biology 8. Pre-history of Philosophy of Biology As is the case for most apparent novelties, closer inspection reveals a prehistory for the philosophy of biology.

Three Types of Philosophy of Biology Three different kinds of philosophical enquiry fall under the general heading of philosophy of biology. Philosophy of Evolutionary Biology Philosophy of biology can also be subdivided by the particular areas of biological theory with which it is concerned. Philosophy of Molecular Biology I mentioned above that the reduction of Mendelian genetics to molecular genetics was one of the first topics to be discussed in the philosophy of biology.

Philosophy of Ecology and Conservation Biology Until recently this was a severely underdeveloped field in the philosophy of biology. Methodology in Philosophy of Biology Most work in the philosophy of biology is self-consciously naturalistic, recognizing no profound discontinuity in either method or content between philosophy and science. Amundson, R. The changing rule of the embryo in evolutionary biology: Structure and synthesis.

New York: Cambridge University Press. Ayala, F. Grene, and E. Mendelsohn eds. Bechtel, W. Philosophy and the Neurosciences: A Reader. Oxford: Blackwells.


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Discovering Complexity. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Beckner, M. The biological way of thought. New York: Columbia University Press. Beurton, P. The Concept of the Gene in Development and Evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Boorse, C. Brandon, R. Concepts and Methods in Evolutionary Biology. Integrating Evolution and Development. Cooper, G. The Science of the Struggle for Existence: On the foundations of ecology. Darden, L. Dawkins, R. The Selfish Gene. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Fodor, J. Garvey, B. Philosophy of Biology. Stocksfield: Acumen. Ghiselin, M. Ginzburg, L.

And from particulars alone general laws cannot be formed. But Rickert stressed, more than they, the psychological dimension of historiography. What an historian held as interesting, or what they choose to present of the practical infinity of possible historical inquiries, was not a matter of reason but a psychology of value. And because historiography was value-driven, any attempt to excise its subjective foundation was not only unwarranted but impossible.

These practical interests do not force history to resolve into a merely relativistic narrativity, Rickert thought, since human nature was sufficiently uniform to allow for inter-subjectively compelling accounts even if there is never proof in the positivist sense. The direct influence of post-Kantian philosophy of history is not as pronounced as the teleological or scientific.

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But the notion that history is a unique sort of inquiry with its own methodology, logic of explanation, and standards of adjudication has been echoed in various ways by figures from Benedetto Croce and Georg Simmel , to R. As diverse as continental philosophy has been, it would not be an unwarranted generalization to say that all thinkers and schools have in one way or another been focused on history.

And they have mostly been so in terms of two distinct conceptual foci: historicity and narrativity. As human beings, we are unique in the animal world insofar as we are constantly burdened with our pasts as well as our futures, unable to forget those incidents which it would be otherwise preferable to bury on the one hand, and unable to ignore what must become of us on the other.

History is not just something we study objectively, but an experience through which we must live and by which we seemingly without conscious control burden ourselves for a variety of psychological reasons. From the Presocratics, when the question of the meaning of being was at its most open, to the nihilistic academic age of the 20th century, philosophical history becomes a history of the meaning of Being. The end of philosophy, wherein the specialized sciences have entirely preoccupied themselves with particular beings while summarily ignoring Being itself, beckons a new and intrinsically historical engagement.

The self as Dasein is constantly engaged in the project of coming out of its past and moving into its future as the space of possibilities in which alone it can act. As such an inextricable part of the human person is its historical facticity. Jean Paul Sartre , in particular, focused on the existential aspects of the past, which he conceives in terms of a blend of the Marxist material conditions for human action and a quasi psycho-analytic unfolding of the phenomenological self. Albeit in less existential terms, the Frankfurt School also founded their view of the subject and of the world in a combination of Marxist materialist historiography and psycho-analysis.

In the latter decades of the 20th century, continental philosophy of history turned its attention to epistemological questions about historical narrative. As such, philosophy must concern itself with an historical investigation of how these truth practices function within and against the backdrop of their historical facticities. Michel Foucault characterized his own project as the historical investigation of the means of truth production. His History of Madness begins a series of works that denies a single fixed meaning for phenomena, but undertakes to show how meaning transmogrifies over time through a series of cultural practices.

In The Order of Things , archeology is characterized as a description of the transitions between cultural discourses in a way that highlights their structural and contextual meaning while undermining any substantive notion of the author of those discourses. The effort, again roughly Nietzschean, is to understand the past in terms of the present, to show that the institutions we find today are neither the result of teleological providence nor an instantiation of rational decision making, but emerge from a power play of discourses carried over from the past.

History should instead concern itself with those moments when the contingencies of the past emerge or descend out of the conflict of its discourses, with how the past reveals a series of disparities rather than progressive steps. The conception of history as a play of power-seeking discursive practices was reflected back upon the practices of the historian. This power play crystallizes in the meta-narrative structures grafted upon the world by the philosophers of history. Rather than a dialectical logic that would seek unity among past events, the postmodern condition drives us to see the disjointedness, dissimilarity, and diversity of events and people.

Required for that is a new way of writing history that embraces a multiplicity of perspectives and standards of judgment, and, by extension, a willingness to embrace the plurality of moral and political lessons that can be drawn absent conviction in a single correct narrative. Like analytic philosophy generally, analytic philosophy of history is partly characterized by its Anglophone heritage and partly by a propensity to treat individual problems rather than offering comprehensive interpretations of reality.

Anglophone philosophy of history is also marked by its conscious self-distancing from the teleological systems of the Hegelians. Concerning the former, Popper charged that the ideological impetus for the totalitarian regimes of the previous hundred years was their shared belief in a national or religious destiny that was both guaranteed and justified by a grand historical process.

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Whether Bismarck, Communism, Fascism, or Nazism, all were confident that history was inexorably marching toward a global regime that would guarantee their way of life and justify the actions taken in their name. The Anglophone tradition was inspired to deny the grand teleological narrative partly as a political aversion to this way of thinking. The focus of philosophy of history in the Anglophone world after Popper turned away from attempts to provide grand narratives in order to deal with specific meta-historical problems.

One problem, carried over from the 19th century scientific philosophers of history, was the logic of historical explanation. Similar to their positivist counterparts, the earlier analytics held explanations to be justified insofar as they were able to render historical events predictable by means of deducing their particulars under a general law. The most well-known expression comes from C. Hempel In this respect, the logic of historical explanation is no different from the logic of scientific explanation.

And while they may be more difficult to locate, once the laws of historical change have been discovered by psychology, anthropology, economics, or sociology, the predictive force of historiography should theoretically rival that of the natural sciences. Attack also came from R.

Collingwood, who denied the existence of covering laws in history and accordingly the applicability of scientific explanatory mechanisms. For him, as well as for Michael Oakeshott, history is a study of the uniqueness of the past and not its generalities, and always for the sake of understanding rather than proving or predicting. It is the particular, especially the particular person, that history studies, and as such the attempt to predict their behavior nomothetically is not only impossible but misunderstands the very reason for historical inquiry in the first place. Contrary to Aristotle, the unscientific character of history for Collingwood and Oakeshott renders it no less-worthy a course of study.

The proper task of history, Collingwood thought, was not to address mere general naturalistic events but the rationality of specific actions. What marks the historian, by contrast, is her interest in the actions of the migrating individuals in terms of their intentions and decisions. In the latter half of the 20th century, a number of explanatory theories were proposed which walk a middle line between the nomothetic and idealist proposals.

Here the effort is neither to demonstrate nor to predict, but to bring together various relevant events around a central unifying concept in order to make clear their interconnections:. What we want from historians is […] an account which brings out their connections and bearing on one another. Walsh , Just as the pedagogical value of a narrative is not reducible to what it can demonstrate, so the value of history rests in its ability to make sense of various features of the lives and times of others.

William Dray , too, argued that historical explanation does not require the sufficient conditions for why something happened, but only the necessary conditions for describing how what did happen could possibly have happened. A second problem addressed by 20th century Anglophone philosophers of history concerned the nature and possibility of objectivity.

While all would agree with Ranke that historiography should endeavor to expunge overt biases and prejudices, the question remains to what extent this could or even should be done. Along these lines Charles Beard had a series of arguments against the Rankean ideal of objectivity. Nevertheless, Beard would not come to endorse the sort of relativistic narrativism of his post-modern continental counterparts.

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It certainly seems true to say that historians select — insofar as a map is itself not the road — and that their selection is a matter of what they personally esteem worth discussing, whether on the level of their general topic or in terms of which causes they consider relevant within an explanation.

But selectivity of itself does not imply prejudice; and a careful reader is more often than not able to distinguish overtly prejudiced accounts from one whose selections are balanced and fair. Moreover, the fact that they are selective would not serve as a prima facie principle of discernment between historians and scientists, since the latter are every bit as selective in the topics under their purview. Isaiah Berlin considered the problem of historiographical objectivity from the perspective of the objects written about rather than exclusively the writer. While the scientist has little emotional commitment to the chemicals or atoms under examination, historians often have strong feelings about the moral consequences of their subjects.

Yet to write about the holocaust or slavery in a purposefully detached way misses the intensely personal character of these events and thus fails to communicate their genuine meaning, even if doing so detracts from their status as objective records in a way scientific history would disallow. What precisely that minimal degree is, however, and how a working historian can navigate moral gray areas without falling back into inherited biases, remains difficult to account for.

For a constructivist like Leon Goldstein , this does not imply an ontological anti-realism wherein none but perceptible objects are considered real. For Goldstein, it would be senseless for historians to doubt that the world they study ever existed; constructivists are equally constrained by evidence as their objectivist counterparts. And for both the evidence with which the historian works concerns a genuinely past state of affairs outside their own minds. Were the viewer of the coin wholly oblivious to either Rome or the natural environment, the coin would not cease to exist, of course; but it would cease to evidence either of these topics.

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In that sense at least, even non-postmodern Anglophone philosophers of history admit the necessarily interpretive and constructive aspects of historiography. Peter Novick and Richard Evans have recently taken up the limits of constructivism on behalf of professional historians. How causes function within historical accounts was the third major question for 20th century Anglophone philosophers of history. For philosophers generally and for philosophers of history specifically, causation presents a multifaceted set of problems.

According to the positivist theory of explanation, an adequate causal account explicates the sum total of necessary and sufficient conditions for an event to take place. This ideal bar is acknowledged as having been set too high for practicing historians, since there is perhaps a near infinity of necessary causes for any historical event. That the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was a cause of the First World War is clear; but necessary, too, was an indescribably myriad set of other economic, social, political, geographical, and even personal factors that led to such a wide-reaching and complex phenomenon to take place precisely as it did: had Gavrilo Princip not associated with the Young Bosnian movement, had gravity failed that day causing bullets to float harmlessly upward, had the Austro-Hungarian alliance not held the southern Slavic provinces, had Franz Ferdinand decided to stay at home on June 28 th , — were any of these conditions actual, the course of history would have been altered.

Thus, their contraries were necessary for having produced the exact outcome that obtained. Collingwood was again influential in overturning the positivist view by distinguishing causes and motives. Physical causes such as properly working guns or the presence of gravity are necessary for assassination in a strictly physical sense.

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But no historian would bother mentioning them. Only motives, the reasons agents have for conducting their actions, are typically referenced: what motives Princip had for firing and what motives the leaders of Germany, France, and Russia had to mobilize their armies. A proper explanation, for Collingwood, involves making clear the reasons why the key actors participated in an event as they did.

One is that Collingwood presumes a freedom of choice that relies upon an outmoded notion of cognitive agency. The same reasons that are purported to have been causally efficacious are often enough retrospective justifications supplied by agents who in reality acted without conscious deliberation. Collingwood often appeals to a particular motive as what a reasonable being would elect to do in a certain situation. The third is that, as historians themselves often note, many actions do not result from the motives of their agents but from the confluence of several motives whose outcome is unpredictable.

Both actions were nevertheless crucial causes of consequences whose main actors could not have foreseen them, much less have willed. Following the conception of causation in legal theory promulgated by H. Just as in legal cases, where conditions in history are normalized the abnormal or untypical decision or event is assigned responsibility for what results. In our example of the causes of WWI, the long history of constant political bickering between the great powers was of course part of the story, but the assassination of the Archduke is assigned responsibility since it stands so untypically out of its context.

To adapt our previous example, one might justifiably think the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was the sufficient cause of WWI if and only if one thinks WWI would not have happened in its absence. Yet whereas counterfactuals are easily enough tested in science by running multiple experiments that control for the variable in question, the unrepeatability of historical events renders traditional counterfactual statements little more than interesting speculations.

To ask how Rome would have developed had Caesar never crossed the Rubicon may be a fascinating thought experiment, but nothing remotely verifiable since a contrary-to-fact conditional is by definition unable to be tested given only one course of facts. Lewis would revise this traditional notion of counterfactuals to include the semantics of maximally similar possible worlds, wherein two worlds are supposed entirely identical save for one alteration which brings about the event in question.

And as such we are invited to question whether assigning the assassination a causal role is justified. Characterized by its criticism of the 20th century Anglophone attempts to epistemologically ground historical explanation, objectivity, and causation as universal functions of logic, the Postmodern legacy in philosophy of history has been taken up by three contemporary theorists in particular: Hayden White , Frank Ankersmit , and Keith Jenkins Each maintains that the analysis of these epistemological issues wrongly circumvents questions about interpretation and meaning, and each considers the search for once-and-for-all demonstrations an attempt to avoid the relativistic character of historical truth.

By focusing on the structures and strategies of historical accounts, White came to see historiography and literature as fundamentally the same endeavor. Historians, like fiction writers, wrote according to a four-fold logic of emplotment, according to whether they saw their subject matter as a romance, tragedy comedy, or satire. This aim stems from their political ideology — anarchist, radical, conservative, or liberal respectively — and is worked out by means of a dominant rhetorical trope — metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, or irony respectively.

Representative philosophers — Nietzsche, Marx, Hegel, and Croce — and representative historians — Michelet, Tocqueville, Ranke, and Burckhardt — are themselves tied to these modes of emplotment. Jenkins exhorts an end to historiography as customarily practiced. Since historians can never be wholly objective, and since historical judgment cannot pretend to a correspondential standard of truth, all that remains of history are the congealed power structures of a privileged class.

In a statement that summarizes much of contemporary historical theory, Jenkins concludes the following:. Jenkins , 9. Although 21st century philosophy of history has widened the gap between practicing historians and theorists of history, and although it has lost some of the popularity it enjoyed from the earlyth to midth century, it will remain a vigorous field of inquiry so long as the past itself continues to serve as a source of philosophical curiosity.

The book includes the edited Neurath-Carnap correspondence and the English translation of Neurath's logic papers. Jordi Cat is associate professor of history and philosophy of science at Indiana University. He has published numerous articles in philosophy of science, history of science and history of philosophy of science, with an emphasis on issues concerning unification, the application of mathematics, the relation between science and philosophy, and cultural and political dimensions of philosophy and scientific cognition.

Cartwright, C. Fleck and T. He works mainly on the history of philosophy of science, especially on the history and significance of logical empiricism. Does Understanding Mean Forgiveness? JavaScript is currently disabled, this site works much better if you enable JavaScript in your browser.