Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 471–499 | Cite as

Parts and Theories in Compositional Biology

  • Rasmus Grønfeldt WintherEmail author


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 


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I am grateful to Melinda Fagan, James Griesemer, Paul Griffiths, Elisabeth Lloyd, Frederick Schmitt, Kim Sterelny, Michael Wade, and an anonymous reviewer for carefully commenting on the manuscript. I thank Vivette García Deister, Elihu Gerson, Daniel McShea, Amir Najmi, Sergio Martínez, Susan Oyama, Rudolf Raff, David Wake, and Michael Weisberg for conversations on these topics. I am grateful to Springer Science and Business Media (Figure 1), Harvard University Press (Figures 3–5), and Sinauer Associates Inc. (Figure 6) for granting me permission to reproduce original material.


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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

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