Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 17, Issue 3, pp 389-407

First online:

Homology and the origin of correspondence

  • Ingo BrigandtAffiliated withDepartment of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh

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Homology is a natural kind term and a precise account of what homologyis has to come out of theories about the role of homologues in evolution anddevelopment. Definitions of homology are discussed with respect to the questionas to whether they are able to give a non-circular account of thecorrespondenceor sameness referred to by homology. It is argued that standard accounts tiehomology to operational criteria or specific research projects, but are not yetable to offer a concept of homology that does not presuppose a version ofhomology or a comparable notion of sameness. This is the case for phylogeneticdefinitions that trace structures back to the common ancestor as well as fordevelopmental approaches such as Wagner's biological homology concept. Incontrast, molecular homology is able to offer a definition of homology in genesand proteins that explicates homology by reference to more basic notions.Molecular correspondence originates by means of specific features of causalprocesses. It is speculated that further understanding of morphogenesis mightenable biologists to give a theoretically deeper definition of homology alongsimilar lines: an account which makes reference to the concrete mechanisms thatoperate in organisms.

Development Evolution Homology Molecular biology