Biology & Philosophy

, 34:55 | Cite as

Integrative pluralism for biological function

  • Samuel Cusimano
  • Beckett SternerEmail author


We introduce a new type of pluralism about biological function that, in contrast to existing, demonstrates a practical integration among the term’s different meanings. In particular, we show how to generalize Sandra Mitchell’s notion of integrative pluralism to circumstances where multiple epistemic tools of the same type are jointly necessary to solve scientific problems. We argue that the multiple definitions of biological function operate jointly in this way based on how biologists explain the evolution of protein function. To clarify how our account relates to existing views, we introduce a general typology for monist and pluralist accounts along with standardized criteria for judging which is best supported by evidence.


Conceptual analysis Explanation Monism Protein function Evolution Gene duplication 



The idea for practice-oriented conceptual analysis first emerged from conversations Sterner had with Joyce Havstad and Scott Lidgard at the Field Museum, but the views we present here are our own and do not necessarily reflect their considered positions. We thank the organizers and participants of the Scientific Knowledge Under Pluralism conference at the University of Pittsburgh in 2017, and the University of Michigan’s Society of Fellows program for providing us with the time and support to collaborate on this project. We also thank the two anonymous referees for this manuscript who provided helpful and constructive responses.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of MedicineOhio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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