Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 471–499

Parts and Theories in Compositional Biology


DOI: 10.1007/s10539-005-9002-x

Cite this article as:
Winther, R. Biol Philos (2006) 21: 471. doi:10.1007/s10539-005-9002-x


I analyze the importance of parts in the style of biological theorizing that I call compositional biology. I do this by investigating various aspects, including partitioning frames and explanatory accounts, of the theoretical perspectives that fall under and are guided by compositional biology. I ground this general examination in a comparative analysis of three different disciplines with their associated compositional theoretical perspectives: comparative morphology, functional morphology, and developmental biology. I glean data for this analysis from canonical textbooks and defend the use of such texts for the philosophy of science. I end with a discussion of the importance of recognizing formal and compositional biology as two genuinely different ways of doing biology – the differences arising more from their distinct methodologies than from scientific discipline included or natural domain studied. Ultimately, developing a translation manual between the two styles would be desirable as they currently are, at times, in conflict.


Compositional biologyDevelopmental biologyMorphologyPartsScience textbookStyle of theorizingTheoretical perspective

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de Investigaciones FilosóficasUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, CoyoacánMéxico D.F.México