Beyond Reduction and Pluralism: Toward an Epistemology of Explanatory Integration in Biology
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The paper works towards an account of explanatory integration in biology, using as a case study explanations of the evolutionary origin of novelties—a problem requiring the integration of several biological fields and approaches. In contrast to the idea that fields studying lower level phenomena are always more fundamental in explanations, I argue that the particular combination of disciplines and theoretical approaches needed to address a complex biological problem and which among them is explanatorily more fundamental varies with the problem pursued. Solving a complex problem need not require theoretical unification or the stable synthesis of different biological fields, as items of knowledge from traditional disciplines can be related solely for the purposes of a specific problem. Apart from the development of genuine interfield theories, successful integration can be effected by smaller epistemic units (concepts, methods, explanations) being linked. Unification or integration is not an aim in itself, but needed for the aim of solving a particular scientific problem, where the problem’s nature determines the kind of intellectual integration required.
KeywordsTheory Reduction Biological Field Evolutionary Developmental Biology Epistemic Goal Traditional Discipline
I thank Alan Love for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. The work on this essay was funded with Standard Research Grant 410-2008-0400 by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
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