Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 471-499

First online:

Parts and Theories in Compositional Biology

  • Rasmus Grønfeldt WintherAffiliated withInstituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán Email author 

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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 biology Developmental biology Morphology Parts Science textbook Style of theorizing Theoretical perspective