The Generalizations of Biology: Historical and Contingent?

Chapter
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 367)

Abstract

Several influential philosophers of biology have raised the claim that the generalizations of biology are historical and contingent (Beatty J (1995) The evolutionary contingency thesis. In: E. Sober (Ed.) (2006) Conceptual issues in evolutionary biology (pp. 217–247). Cambridge: MIT Press; Schaffner, K. (1993). Discovery and explanation in biology and medicine. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; Rosenberg (British Journal for Philosophy of Science, 52(4): 735–760, 2001); Craver, C. (2007). Explaining the brain: Mechanisms and the mosaic unity of neuroscience. Oxford: Clarendon; Mitchell, S. D. (2009). Unsimple truths: Science, complexity and policy. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press). This claim divides into the following subclaims, each of which I will contest: firstly, biological generalizations are restricted to a particular space-time region. I argue that biological generalizations are universal with respect to space and time. Secondly, biological generalizations are restricted to specific kinds of entities, i.e., these generalizations do not quantify over an unrestricted domain. I will challenge this second claim by providing an interpretation of biological generalizations that do quantify over an unrestricted domain of objects. Thirdly, biological generalizations are contingent in the sense that their truth depends on special (physically contingent) initial and background conditions. I will argue that the contingent character of biological generalizations does neither diminish their explanatory power nor is it the case that this sort of contingency is exclusively characteristic of biological generalizations.

Keywords

Evolutionary contingency thesis Laws of nature Biological generalizations Universality Ceteris paribus laws 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Philosophisches Seminar, DFG Research Group “Causation and Explanation”Universität zu KölnKölnGermany

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