Philosophy of Biology

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  • Introduction: Philosophical questions about biology have been addressed by philosophers and scientists for centuries. Yet as a genuine discipline within philosophy, philosophy of biology started to emerge in the 1970s (Byron, 2007). One motivation for this was the fact that much of traditional philosophy of science—growing out of logical positivism—focused on physics as the exemplar of science. Thereby past philosophy of science simply assumed that accounts of confirmation, theory structure, laws, and explanation would apply to biology as well, creating biased or inadequate views about the nature of science. But rather than directly addressing issues in general philosophy of science in the context of biology, philosophers of biology have for the most part engaged in questions that originate from within biology, pertaining to concepts from a specific biological field or to phenomena from a particular biological domain. Some of these questions have been raised by biologists, resulting in debate and fruitful interaction among scientists and philosophers. This interdisciplinary practice of contemporary philosophy of biology is illustrated by the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and the Social Studies of Biology, and by philosophical journals to which many scientists contribute. Most questions in philosophy of biology are epistemological questions, e.g., about the character of particular biological explanations, models, and concepts, and are sometimes combined with issues about scientific method and practice. Yet these issues also tap into metaphysical considerations, at least insofar as they hinge on facts about the biological world.

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    © 2011 I. Brigandt et al. This version of this article is open access and can be downloaded and shared. The original author(s) and source must be cited.
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    • Brigandt, I. (2011). Philosophy of Biology. In S. French & J. Saatsi (Eds.), The Continuum Companion to the Philosophy of Science (pp. 246-267). London: Bloomsbury Academic.
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