Review Essay

Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 26, Issue 2, pp 305-313

First online:

Review of Sandra D. Mitchell: Unsimple truths: science, complexity, and policy

The University of Chicago Press, 2009
  • David Robert CrawfordAffiliated withDepartments of Philosophy and Biology, Duke University Email author 

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In Unsimple truths, Sandra D. Mitchell examines the historical context of current scientific practices and elaborates the challenges complexity has since posed to status quo science and policymaking. Mitchell criticizes models of science inspired by Newtonian physics and argues for a pragmatistic, anti-universalist approach to science. In this review, I focus on what I find to be the most important point of the book, Mitchell’s argument for the conceptual independence of compositional materialism and descriptive fundamentalism. Along the way, I provide a description of Mitchell’s overall project and a road map of the book.


Complexity Compositional materialism Contingency Descriptive fundamentalism Emergentism Reductionism Scientific laws Scientific method