Biology, philosophy of

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q138-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2009
Retrieved May 24, 2019, from

2. Conceptual issues in the life sciences

One of the primary achievements of the philosophy of biology lies in its ability to help clarify, and thereby resolve, technical conceptual issues in the life sciences. This is an area in which fruitful collaboration between philosophers and biologists is common, and it is one in which biologically engaged philosophy shades imperceptibly into conceptually sophisticated biology. We have already seen that the question of the levels at which natural selection acts is an issue of this sort. Other traditional questions of this type concern what sort of thing a biological species is (see Species), or what it means to say that some particular biological trait is innate, rather than acquired (see Innate knowledge; Innateness). In recent years philosophers and biologists alike have shown special interest in understanding the relationship between different branches of biology. A prime example of this sort of thinking concerns the relationship between evolutionary biology and developmental biology (see Evolutionary developmental biology). On the one hand, one might think that the two sciences are largely independent of each other. Evolution is a process whereby natural selection shapes organisms in a way that adapts them to their environments, with the fitter form tending to prevail. Here it is not clear what explanatory role there is for the details of the processes by which fertilised eggs mature to become adult organisms (see Modern synthesis, the). But a strong case can be made for integrating the disciplines, if we understand development as a process that can place biases on the sorts of traits that are available for selection to act on, and which thereby has its own role in explaining evolutionary trends. Once again, generic issues in the philosophy of explanation have considerable bearing on these debates (see Explanation).

Citing this article:
Lewens, Tim. Conceptual issues in the life sciences. Biology, philosophy of, 2009, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q138-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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