Biology philosophy of

While it may seem that the philosophy of biology, a field known for its focus on metaphysical, epistemological, and conceptual issues in biology, is far removed from the concerns of bioethics, there is a trend in philosophy of biology towards descriptivism that paradoxically allows for significant bridges with the predominantly normative concerns of bioethics.

About the same time that bioethics was born (the 1960s), the field of philosophy of biology took its first steps. Initially, it looked a lot like the rest of philosophy of science, which often meant focusing on the kinds of concerns that had their roots in physics. David Hull, Michael Ruse (1973) and others created a field that was dominated by formal concerns in evolutionary biology, including the nature and structure of its theories. Questions for the field included the nature of any reductions from the theories of Mendelian and transmission genetics to molecular genetics, whether it was possible to axiomatize evolutionary theory, how to account for the apparent teleology of evolutionary explanations, whether species are classes or individuals, and what the units of selection are. Many of these topics have remained active sub-fields to the present day.

Over time, philosophy of biology came to include much richer and detailed involvement with both current biology and the history of biology. Many philosophers came to ground their philosophical insights in rich historical accounts of various periods in the history of biology or in contemporary debates of active concern to practicing biologists. This naturalistic turn occurred in many parts of philosophy of science, but seems to have been most acute in philosophy of biology, at least partly for institutional reasons, including the creation of the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology (Callebaut).

Through these developments, the field still largely avoided normative issues and focused on evolutionary biology. Recently several attempts have been made to move the field to other parts of biology. There are a number of philosophers working on developmental biology and using it as an alternative for framing traditional issues (Oyama, Griffiths, and Gray). Kenneth Schaffner has made a notable and unusual attempt to discuss the more medical parts of biology. Paul Thagard has similarly attempted to use work in the biomedical sciences (attempts at explaining the causes of ulcers) to address general philosophical issues in the nature of explanation.

There are a number of topics within philosophy of biology that especially bear on issues within bioethics.

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