Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 301-318

First online:

Unification and coherence as methodological objectives in the biological sciences

  • Richard M. BurianAffiliated withCenter for the Study of Science in Society, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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In this paper I respond to Wim van der Steen's arguments against the supposed current overemphasis on norms ofcoherence andinterdisciplinary integration in biology. On the normative level, I argue that these aremiddle-range norms which, although they may be misapplied in short-term attempts to solve (temporarily?) intractable problems, play a guiding role in the longer-term treatment of biological problems. This stance is supported by a case study of apartial success story, the development of the one gene — one enzyme hypothesis. As that case shows, thegoal of coherent interdisciplinary integration not only provides guidance for research, but also provides the standard for recognizingfailed integrations of the sort that van der Steen criticizes.

Key words

Beadle coherence genetics historiography of science integration of disciplines methodology molecular biology reduction Tatum unity of science