Beyond Reduction and Pluralism: Toward an Epistemology of Explanatory Integration in Biology
- 634 Downloads
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.
- Amundson, R. (2005). The changing role of the embryo in evolutionary thought: Roots of evo-devo. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Bechtel, W. (2006). Discovering cell mechanisms: The creation of modern cell biology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Bechtel, W., & Richardson, R. (1993). Discovering complexity: Decomposition and localization as strategies in scientific research. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
- Brigandt, I., & Love, A. C. (2008). Reductionism in biology. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition). <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2008/entries/reduction-biology>.
- Brigandt, I., & Love, A. C. (in press). Evolutionary novelty and the evo-devo synthesis: field notes. Evolutionary Biology. doi: 10.1007/s11692-010-9083-6.
- Dupré, J. (1993). The disorder of things: Metaphysical foundations of the disunity of science. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Hall, B. K. (1998). Evolutionary developmental biology (2nd ed.). London: Chapman and Hall.Google Scholar
- Hall, B. K. (Ed.). (2006). Fins into limbs: Evolution, development and transformation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Hall, B. K. (2007). Tapping many sources: the adventitious roots of evo-devo in the nineteenth century. In M. D. Laubichler & J. Maienschein (Eds.), From embryology to evo-devo: A history of developmental evolution (pp. 467–497). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Hall, B. K., & Olson, W. M. (Eds.). (2003). Keywords and concepts in evolutionary developmental biology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Hull, D. L. (1974). Philosophy of biological science. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
- Kirschner, M., & Gerhart, J. (2005). The plausibility of life: Resolving Darwin’s dilemma. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- Love, A. C. (2005). Explaining evolutionary innovation and novelty: A historical and philosophical study of biological concepts. Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. <http://etd.library.pitt.edu/ETD/available/etd-05232005-142007>.
- Mayr, E. (1960). The emergence of evolutionary novelties. In S. Tax (Ed.), Evolution after Darwin (vol. 1, pp. 349–380). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Mitchell, S. D. (2002). Integrative pluralism. Philosophy of Science, 17, 55–70.Google Scholar
- Mitchell, S. D. (2003). Biological complexity and integrative pluralism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Müller, G. B. (1990). Developmental mechanisms at the origin of morphological novelty: a side-effect hypothesis. In M. H. Nitecki (Ed.), Evolutionary innovations (pp. 99–130). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Müller, G. B. (2007). Six memos for evo-devo. In M. D. Laubichler & J. Maienschein (Eds.), From embryology to evo-devo: A history of developmental evolution (pp. 499–524). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Müller, G. B., & Newman, S. A. (1999). Generation, integration, autonomy: three steps in the evolution of homology. In G. R. Bock & G. Cardew (Eds.), Homology (pp. 65–73). Chicester: Wiley.Google Scholar
- Müller, G. B., & Wagner, G. P. (2003). Innovation. In B. K. Hall & W. M. Olson (Eds.), Keywords and concepts in evolutionary developmental biology (pp. 218–227). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Nagel, E. (1961). The structure of science. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World.Google Scholar
- Oppenheim, P., & Putnam, H. (1958). Unity of science as a working hypothesis. In H. Feigl, M. Scriven, & G. Maxwell (Eds.), Concepts, theories, and the mind-body problem (pp. 3–36). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
- Rosenberg, A. (1994). Instrumental biology or the disunity of science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Schaffner, K. F. (1993). Discovery and explanation in biology and medicine. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
- Sober, E. (1984). The nature of selection: Evolutionary theory in philosophical focus. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Wagner, G. P. (2007b). The current state and the future of developmental evolution. In M. D. Laubichler & J. Maienschein (Eds.), From embryology to evo-devo: A history of developmental evolution (pp. 525–545). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Wake, D. B. (1996). Evolutionary developmental biology: prospects for an evolutionary synthesis at the developmental level. Memoirs of the California Academy of Sciences, 20, 97–107.Google Scholar
- Wallace, B. (1986). Can embryologists contribute to an understanding of evolutionary mechanisms? In W. Bechtel (Ed.), Integrating scientific disciplines (pp. 149–163). Dordrecht: M. Nijhoff.Google Scholar
- Wimsatt, W. C. (1979). Reductionism and reduction. In P. D. Asquith & H. E. Kyburg (Eds.), Current research in philosophy of science (pp. 352–377). East Lansing: Philosophy of Science Association.Google Scholar