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Is There an Explanation for … the Diversity of Explanations in Biological Studies?

  • Michel Morange
Part of the History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences book series (HPTL, volume 11)

Abstract

The multiplicity of explanations in the biological sciences has already been amply discussed by philosophers of science. The field of Evo-Devo has been a focus of much attention, with the obvious coexistence and competition of evolutionary and developmental explanations. In this contribution I borrow examples from hugely different areas of biological research to show that this multiplicity of explanations is common to all branches of biology. I will emphasize three explanations for this diversity. The first is the ambiguity of the questions raised, which can be understood in different ways and require different answers. One recurring ambiguity concerns the local or general nature of the questions (and answers). The second explanation is in the historicity of life, which makes every situation unique, and may require different models for the explanation of apparently similar situations. Another cause of this plurality is the existence of long-lasting competing traditions of explanations. These traditions result from the existence of distinct approaches to reality in scientific thinking, such as the opposition between reductionism and holism, and from a complex history of scientific ideas, models, and theories proper to each biological field. The multiplicity of explanations in the biological sciences therefore has a heterogeneous origin, both epistemic and ontological.

Keywords

Historicity Holism Plurality of explanations Research traditions Reductionism Themata 

Notes

Acknowledgements

I am indebted to Dr. David Marsh for critical reading of the manuscript, to Pierre-Alain Braillard and Christophe Malaterre for inviting me to participate in this collective enterprise, and for the numerous remarks they did on the first version of the manuscript, and to the two anonymous reviewers.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre Cavaillès, République des savoirs: Lettres, sciences, philosophie USR 3608Ecole normale supérieureParis Cedex 05France

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