What the philosophy of biology is and should be?

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Szczepan W. Ślaga

What the philosophy of biology is

and should be?

Studia Philosophiae Christianae 25/2, 155-175



Studia Philosophiae Christianae ATK




1. Is the philosophy of biology necessary?, 2. Survey of some concepts of the philosophy of biology, 3. Towards an adequate understanding of the philosophy of biology, 3.1. Logic of biological language, 3.2. M etho­ dology of biology, 3.3. The theory of biological knowledge, 3.4. Epi- stemology of biology, 4. Discussion and final conclusions. References.


Owing to advances in research w orks in th e last decades biology has changed considerably, tak in g th e forem ost place am ong n a tu ra l sciences. G reat achievem ents in m o d em bio­ logy, m ade possible owing to th e appearence of n ew expe­ rim en tal m ethods and techniques, gave to certain th eoreticians a basis for speaking of a second biological revolution, a fte r th a t s ta rte d by D arw in, th e m olecular rev o lutio n, and of a beginning of th e e ra of biology. C om paring these two revolutions, m ark e d first b y th e publication of th e evolu­ tio n a ry th eo ry and th en by th e discovery of th e genetic code, M. R use (1971, pp. 17— 38) stressed th a t despite differences in o rien tatio n and, in p a rt, in m ethodology, both revolutions in fluen ced in a high degree th e change in th e m ode of approach to th e problem s of life an d th e role of biology w ith resp ect to o th er n a tu ra l sciences and to main. P e n e tra tin g ever m ore deeply and u n iv ersa lly into th e secrets of life an d revealing th e u ltra s tru e tu re and su b tle m echanism of v ita l processes biology is becom ing a d om inant science, and at th e sam e tim e, it has assum ed a m ore h u m an or hum an ized aspects. T hro u gh m an y-sided studies, epsecially in m olecular biology, genetics, ecology — biology has opened up new possibilities, am ong th em th e possibility of positive in te rv en tio n

* The paper presented in Inter-U niversity Centre, Dubrovnik, Yugo­ slavia, at Philosophy of Science Conference (main topics: Explanation in Science, Philosophy of Biology), 4—15 April, 1988. Sponsored by St. Hilda’s College, University of Oxford.


in th e functions of organism s, tre a tm e n t of v arious diseases, findin g of new sources of food, co u n teractin g of en v iro n m en t degradation connected w ith technical expansion or w asteful exploitatio n of n a tu ra l sources. In sh ort: it ensures th e su rv iv al of th e h u m an species (and n o t only th is one), and provides an u n d e rsta n d in g of th e p ro p er conditions of h um an life. This show s ev id en tly th a t biology has m ark e d in a sig­ n ific an t w ay its in flu en ce on our life, on our a ttitu d e s and o u r view s on th e w orld.

We m ay consider th a t biology, like every scientific disci­ pline, has its deep philosophical d e term in an ts an d im plications, a n d th a t philosophy is in som e w ay en tw ined w ith in the biological sciences. The m eaning of th is sta te m e n t req u ires a n explanation.

We know now th a t th e developm ent of n a tu ra l sciences depends n o t only on th e collection and description of em ­ p irical data, b u t also, or even in th e first place, on th e ir th eo re tic al processing and m eta-o b jectiv e analyses of m ethodo­ logical, epistem ological and philosophical ch aracter. This is p a rtic u la rly evident, w hen th e developm ent of physics and re la te d disciplines is considered. These sciences have achieved a h igh degree of precision, and th eo retical perfection owing to su ch analyses, and have become an exam ple (a p a tte rn ) for o th er disciplines (M. Ruse 1976; E. H u tten 1960; J. H. W oodger 1960; B. K otow a 1986; E. P ietru sk a-M ad ej 1980; W. K rajew sk i 1982, pp. 305— 309). In com parison to physics the biological sciences, despite th e ir p resen t accelerated de­ velopm ent, seem to be still in s ta tu nascendi. The u n q u estio ­ nable successes of biology in rec e n t y ears h av e n ot been accom panied to a sa tisfa c to ry degree by m ethodologkxH philo- sophical reflection. The biologists them selves are no t satisfied w ith " p u re ” facts concerning th e s tru c tu ra l and functional p ro p erties of organism s or th e ir evolution, know ing th a t the scientific valu e of these facts is d eterm in ed by such research p ro cedu res as th e establishing of law s an d th eo ries and th e ir justification by ex p lan atio n and testing. The in te rp re ta tio n of biological data is ąssooiated often w ith questions of a p h i­ losophical c h a ra c te r, alth o u gh not alw ays fo rm u la ted as stric tly philosophical. Rosenberg (1985, p. 11) w rote ju stly th at: th e justificatio n fo r p u rsu in g th e philosophy of biology re s t on th e fact th a t biologists cannot avoid th e g rea t questions th a t tra n sc en d th e ir d ay -to -d ay concern. F or if th e re are correct answ ers to th e questions faced ev ery day


in th e lab an d th e field, and if th e theo ries biologists propound are d efin itely tru e o r false as a m a tte r of th e objective facts about th e w ay th e w orld w orks, th en th e re m u st also be correct answ ers to th e g rea t questions of m etaphysics an d epistem ology as w ell. If th e re is objective know ledge in biology, th e re is objective know ledge in its philosophy as w ell, for th e tw o subjects are in d istin g u ish ­ able a n d inséparable.

S im ilarly , m any philosophers —■ as stre sse d fu rth e r by Rosenberg (1985, p. 13) — for m an y y ears have tu rn e d to biology m ain ly for assessing w h e th e r and in w h at degree th e ir philosophy of science (form ulated on th e basis of the r e ­ search m odel and reco n struction of physics, th a t is philo­ sophy of physics w ith its logic and m ethodology, its epistem o- logical principles an d m etap h y sical im plications) is proving correct in a field as differen t from physics as is biology at th e p resen t stage of its developm ent.

The ju stification of th e n eed for a philosophy of biology fo rm u lated by W. H. K an e (1960, p. 53) is som ew hat d ifferen t; he p o in ted o u t th a t:

The n eed for a th o ro u g h consideration of th e logic of bio­ logy is especially g reat, n o t only because our biological know ledge is rap id ly increasing, b u t also because it concerns so m an y of us so in tim a te ly as h u m an beings and as s tu ­ dents of biology. M oreover, an advancing biology m u st be b ro u g h t into relatio n w ith o th er advancing sciences.

On th e one hand, various philosophical questions are d irected to biology, on th e o th er band, su ch questions arise spontaneously w ith new advances in biology an d during research w ork. A lthough for th e stu d y of biology and o th er n a tu ra l sciences it is n ot absolutely necessary to re fe r to p rin ­ ciples of philosophical th in k in g , a t th e p re se n t developm ental stage th e sciences have alread y evolved th e ir own m ethods of discovery and justificatio n of know ledge. B u t for inqu isitiv e persons su ch tackling of philosophical problem s seem s u navoid­ able. T heir analysis belongs to th e field of philosophy of biology, called, som etim es, biophilosophy. The im p ortan ce and th e necessity of hiophilosophical analyses are th e resu lt, accorging to S a ttle r (1986, p. 3), o f th e fact th at:

It places research into bro ad er p erspectives and it provides g uidelines for specific research projects. Hence, it is not only im p o rta n t for th e g en eralist a n d philosopher, b u t it has also crucial significance for th e scien tist in th e


labo-ra to ry or th e field. Thus, biophilosophy is n o t n ecessarily arm ch air philosopboy of an esoteric n a tu re , as m an y bio­ logists ten d to th in k , b u t is of fu n d am e n ta l p ractical im ­ p o rta n c e because it is at th e roots of all research.

L et us now consider certain philosophical problem s rela te d to biological research es and try to determ in e th e m ode of u n d e rsta n d in g of th e philosophy of biology tak in g as exam ple certain selected a u th o rs and problem s.


T he extension an d th e asso rtm ent of th e problem s w hich co n stitu te th e philosophy of biology are v e ry b ro ad and varied, depending on how a given a u th o r u n d e rsta n d s the science itself and w h a t is his concept of philosophy.

T h ere is an alm ost g en eral ag reem en t on one point, th a t is th a t th e philosophy of biology ought to analyse the s tru c tu re of biology an d th e proced u res of explanatio n, v e­ rificatio n and prediction used in it. One of th e auth ors exceptional in th is respect was, in his tim es, L. von B e rta - lan ffy (1932, v. I, p. 6) w ho m ain tain ed th a t n o t the philosophy of biology b u t th eo retical biology "is a th e o ry of know ledge and m ethodology of th e science of life ” . We sh all see th a t this view is un accep tab le p resen tly .

A p a rt from m ethodological analyses th e philosop hy of bio­ logy involves various types of philosophical p roblem s in a stric t or b road sense, for exam ple, m echanism , vitalism , reductionism , organism alism , determ inism , causality, finality, w holeness, evolutionism etc. Som etim es, th e y are covered by one term : philosophical problem s (aspects) of biology \ F rom th e stan d p o int of epistem ology these problem s are h ig hly diversified and belong th u s to d iffe re n t sciences.

Take for exam ple th e concept of m echanism . Its histo­ rical u n d erstan d in g w as e ith e r ontological or m ethodological (A. Synow iecki 1969, p. 16, pp. 66— 67). On th e fo rm er u n d e r­ standing m echanism w as e ith e r a th eo ry of s tru c tu re of m aterial objects, sta tin g th a t bodies (wholes) co n stitu te sum s

1 Such definitions are encountered in the title of m any books and pampers, e. g. Philosophical aspects of biology (Probleme of the contem­ porary world no. 27, Moscow 1980, USSR Academy of Sciences); G. A. Jugaj : Philosophical problems of theoretical biology (Moscow 1976, lad. Mysl); Philosophical problems in biology, ed. by V. E. Sm ith, New York 1966, St. Jo h n ’s Univ. Press; M. A. Simon, op. cit.


of unchangeable and e x te rn a lly in terco n n ected p a rts, or a th eo ry of events understo od as a m echanical m ovem ent of p a rts of m ate ria l system s. In th e second, m ethodological, understanding m echanism p o stu la te d explication th ro u g h r e ­ duction of descriptions an d scientific law s to th e concepts and law s of m echanics. Thus, m echanism m ay belong eith er to ontology o r m ethodology.

Q uite sim ilarly , teleology is u n d ersto od e ith e r as a view according to w hich living stru c tu re s are co n stru c te d pu rp o se­ fu lly and v ital processes are aim ed at p re d e te rm in e d purposes a lre ad y in th e ir n a tu re (E. M ayr 1976; T horpe 1978) or as a p o stu la te (directive) of teleological ex p lan atio n of biological s tru c tu re s and processes (J. C anfield 1964). Again, according to A. O parin (1967, pp. 22— 23; 1977, pp. 3— 5) p urposefulness is a un iv ersal e lem en tary fe a tu re of life, ex p lain ed as a resu lt of the action of n a tu ra l selection an d th e cooperation of the organism w ith th e environm ent. It seem s th u s th a t teleology m ay belong e ith e r to ontology, or to m ethodology or to th eoretical biology.

Some philosophers assum e th a t th e m ain and p erh ap s th e only su b ject of th e philosophy of biology is th e analysis of reductionism and th e relatio n of biology to physics (M. Ruse 1971b, 1973; D. H ull 1972, 1974, 1976; K. K. S ch affner 1967, 1969, 1976). H ow ever, m ost au th o rs seem to envisage th e subject of this science too broadly, including in it n o t only th e stu d y of th e s tru c tu re of sta te m e n ts and th eories b u t also considerations of e. g. relatio n s betw een m a tte r an d life, m ind an d body, b ru te s and m en, or pro blem s of e. g. perception, bioethics, h u m an values and philosophy of m an (M. G rene 1974; M. A. Sim on 1971; F. W u'ketits 1983; R. S a ttle r 1986). H ere w e m eet s tric tly biological notions (grasp) as w ell as m ethodological, ontological and m etaphysical problem s, often in connection w ith historical analyses. In view of considerable differences in th e m ethods of analysis and in th e levels of cognition th e ir m erging in to a w hole and calling it th e p h i­ losophy of (biology does n ot seem valid.

A n in te restin g concept of th e philosophy of biology was p u t fo rw are some y ears ago by E. Callot. In his Philosophie bio­

logique (Paris 1957) he se t a p a rt th e m ethodology and th e

epistem ology of biological sciences. H ow ever, altho u gh he dis­ cussed co rrectly th e form er, in th e apitem ology th e discussed successively the n a tu re of life, th e m an ifestatio ns of life, and the origin and evolution of life in a w ay ch aracteristic of


theo retical biology. Thus, th e difference betw een biology and its philosophy become -blurred.


N early 20 y ears ago D. H ull (1969) analysing philosophical pap ers on evolutionism an sw ered th e question: w h a t th e p h i­ losophy of biology is not? C ertain suggestions concerning a positive answ er developed la te r on by H ull (1974) in d icated th a t th e object of th e philosophy of biology in clud ed analysis of th e s tru c tu re of biological law s and th eories in a m ethodo­ logical aspect, m ainly in re la tio n to physicochem ical law s and theories.

L et us consider as th e sta rtin g p oint for our discussion th e sta te m e n t of G rene (1974, p. V III) th a t a lth o u g h th e re is no absolute dividing line betw een conceptual analysis an d em pi­ rical studies, b u t ra th e r certain in te rre la tio n sh ip s a n d m u tu a l influence, n ev erth eless, th e y co nstitu te tw o d iffe re n t m an i­ festatio n s of h u m an cognitive activities. A philoso pher is u nable to indicate m ethods for solving biological problem s, a biologist cannot cope w ith philosophical p roblem s since these are for him m eta-problem s.

The philosophy of biology belongs to th e philosophy of the n a tu ra l sciences w hich is a p a rt of th e philosophy of science called also th e science of science or g eneral epistem ology. The philosophy of biology is n o t an object science (objective science — grade I science), its object of stu d y is n o t th e living w o rld h u t the biological know ledge as such. It tre a ts the biological sciences as its research object and source of cognition, an d th u s it is a m eta-science, or m e ta b io lo g y 2 (as it w as called by Pavese), w hich stu dies the n a tu re an d valu e of biological know ledge, an d th e c h a ra c te r an d effec­ tiveness of th e m ethods a n d tools of rese a rc h used in biology. It deals th u s w ith th e logicm ethodological and apistem

o-2 R. Pavese (Filosofia e biologia. Lineam enti di metabiologia, Padova 1961, Cedam) this term used, however, in a too broad meaning, covering certain ontological implications resulting iroim biological studies, e.g. transeendeintality of life. Others define philosophy of biology as “bio­ logical philosophy” or “philosophical biology”, e. g. E. Callot: Philoso­ phie biologique, Paris 1957, Doin; F. Dagognet: Philosophie biologique, Paris 1955, PUF. M. Jeu'ken in his article A Note on model and e x ­ planations in biology, Acta Biotheoretica 18 (1969) pp. 284—290, spoke of philosophical biology, but included it together w ith m athem atical biology into theoretical biology.


logical p roblem s con n ected w ith th e laguage of biology, w ith th e m ethods an d bases of biological sciences, and w ith the analysis of the m ost gen eral resu lts of these sciences *.

On th e basis of these g eneral considerations fou r divisions (parts) m ay be d iscerned in th e p hilosophy of biology w hich are stu d ied se p a ra te ly o r in com bination depending on the actual needs or in te rests of th e th eo reticians dealing w ith them . T hey are: 1. logic of biological language, 2. m ethodology of biology, 3. th e o ry of biological know ledge (gnoseology), 4. epistem ology of biology. The problem s in each of these divisions w ill he b rie fly outlined.


The language used in biology com prises a system of signs in th e form of observational concepts as w ell as th eoretical concepts and sen ten ce expressions composed of them . The analysis of the logical s tru c tu re of concepts and senten ces is th e task of sem iotics, w h ich includes syntactics, sem antics and pragm atics. S yntactics describes th e s tru c tu re and form of expressions an d th e ir tra n sfo rm atio n b y m eans of rules, e. g. of d etachm en t or su b stitu tion . S yntactics m ay be form al or logical, depending on w h e th e r it rela te s to form al language or to th e m eaning of expressions. In th e analysis of biological language logical sem antics w ith th e ru le s of com bination of expressions to form la rg e r u n its m ay be useful, w ith fu rth e r tra n sfo rm atio n of th em in such a w ay th a t th e y w o u ld n ot lose th e ir defined featu res.

W hile sy n tactics deals w ith in tra lin g u istic relatio ns betw een signs, sem antics describes th e relatio n s betw een sings and rea lity , th a t is th e relatio n s betw een language concepts and expressions and th e objects or sta te s of th ings designated by th em (J. Lyons 1977). T ypically sem antic are the notions of denotation, designation, definition, tru th . P rag m atics is con­ cerned w ith th e rela tio n s betw een language and those w ho use it, th a t is th e relatio n s of com m unication, un d erstan d in g , asserting.

in th e philosophy of biology little atten io n has been given 8 R. S attler (1986, p. 6) defined philosohpy of biology as “the analysis of biological statem ents including the reasoning through w hich they have become established” but he was aw are th at this was a provisional definition since the notions “philosophy” and “biology” are ambiguous and the notions such as law, theory, explanation may be variously understood.


as y et to sy n tactic analyses an d to discussion of th e functions of sem antic expressions u sed in biology. The w orks of W oodger, Beclm er, Riedl, W uketits, Ruse, G rene, N agel have co n trib u ted g re a tly to th e developm ent of a m ore s tric t and precise biological language by elim ination of concepts and ex­ pressions w hich w e r am biguous, u nclear, im precise or inco­ h e re n t. As in ev ery science, in biology also em pirical d a ta and g eneralizations in th e form of law s, hypotheses, and theories are expressed in a special language form ed from concepts an d expressions in accordance w ith sy n tactic-sem an ­ tic rules. The difference of th e biological language in relatio n to th e languages of o th er sciences, w hich has its roots in the com plexity and v aria b ility of th e form s, stru c tu re s and. org a­ nizations of living organism s, is reflec ted in a logical spe­ cificity of concepts. A ccording to B eckner (1959, pp. 16— 25; 1972, pp. 312— 314) th e re a re specifically biological concepts show ing th re e logical featu res, n o t possessed by non-biological concepts, w h ich are of decisive im p ortan ce for th e specificity of law s a n d ex p lan ation s in biological theories. T hey are: historicity , fu n ctio n ality an d politypy, and in our opinion also — relatio n ality. T hey m ay be defined b rie fly as follows:

H isto ricity is a p ro p e rty of biological concepts such th a t in th e ir d efinitions w e use those sta te s an d fea tu re s of bio- system s w hich are unique, irre p ea tab le an d tra n sie n t. H istory is, so to speak., in co rp o rated into th e s tru c tu re , functions and behav io ur p a tte rn s of biosystem s, because th e ir full and p ro p er definition is n o t possible if th e y are isolated from a historical context. .

F u n c tio n a lity denotes th e logical p ro p e rty of a biological concept such th a t w hen th is concept is used in relatio n to some process or s tru c tu re it indicates its function in a bio- sy stem an d th e role of th is function in th e m ain tenan ce of biosystem functioning.

P o ly ty p y as a logical p ro p e rty of biological concepts is defined as follows: a given class of individuals is p olitypical in .relation to a certain set of fea tu re s if each in d iv idu al in th is class has m an y fea tu re s from th is set and each fe a tu re of th e set is found in m an y ind iv iduals of th is class. A pe­ cu liar instance of a fu lly polytipical class in rela tio n to a given set occurs, if in a given se t of fea tu re s no fe a tu re is presen t w h ih w ould n o t belong to all individuals in th is class (B eckner 1959, pp. 22— 25).


w hich m eans th a t it is im passible to be in d ep en d en t in de­ fining and describing th e p arts, stru c tu re s and processes of low er typ e of those of h ig h er typ e or of th e w hole organism . A w ell defined concept is relatio n al in th e sense th a t it rela te s a given com ponent o r p a rt to a w hole, and a low er w hole to a h ig h er one.

In describing a s tru c tu re or a v ita l process being a compo­ n e n t of a s tru c tu re or process of h ig h er o rd er (level) a bio­ logist uses so to speak ''e x trin sic ” concepts, th a t is those r e ­ la te d to a h ig h er level, th u s he form s concepts w hich are relatio n al and, at th e sam e tim e, p olytypical an d historical (and often also functional) in com parison to all " in trin sic ” pro p erties of th e described object or process.

C o n trary to the supposed suggestion of S a ttle r (1986, pp. 82— 84) these are not k inds of biological concepts b u t th e ir logical p ro p erties, an d th e m ore com pletely th e y ch aracterize th em th e m ore ev id en tly th ey m an ifest them selves and are used in conjugations. A single fe a tu re m ay be given to no n- -biological concepts. C onceptualization as a process of form a­ tion of concepts and giving th em possibly m ost precise m eaning is an im p o rta n t factor in th e developm ent of th e biological sciences an d in th e ir th eo retical m atu ratio n . This goal is to be achieved by m eans of th e discussed division of the ph ilosophy of ibiology.


This m ay be u n d ersto o d an d p u rsu e d as one of th e m eth o ­ dologies of exact sciences (methodics), an d th en it is a p a rt of biology as a m o th er science, or as a division of g eneral m ethodology w hich is th e science of th e efficient achievem ent of cognitive aims. In th e la tte r sense, accepted here, it is closely connected w ith logic and includes various activities of discovery (conquering) an d ju stificatio n of biological k n o w ­ ledge. In its basis characteristics th e p re p a ra to ry activities, th a t is collecting of em pirical data th ro u g h observation, ex- p erim et, an d th en foundation and v erification (various types of inference draw ing), are comm on to all em pirical sciences. H ow ever, in view of th e specificity of objects, functions and biotic s tru c tu re various procedures an d logical operations are used in biology w hich are d iffe re n t from th e m ethods used in other sciences.

In th e context of discovery, for exam ple, th e m etho d of com parison of organism s and species, w ith each other, is used,


besides observations an d ex p erim en t, as a source of em pirical d ata an d descriptive sta te m e n ts. C onsequently, th is m ethod leads to th e establish m en t of sim ilarities a n d differences be­ tw een objects, in divid u als an d stru c tu re s. E. C aspari (1964, p. 134) called th e co m parative m eth od an " o rd e r-a n a ly tic a l m eth o d ” in c o n tra st to th e "ca u sa l-a n aly tic a l m eth o d ” seeking th ro u g h e x p erim en t to discover th e causal relatio n sh ip s be­ tw een processes. The com parative m eth o d is used also in p h y ­ sicochem ical sciences, b u t in biology it is an in te g ral p a rt.

In th e context of ju stificatio n th e specificity of th e proce­ d u res of testin g and ex p lan atio n in biology becomes m ore evident. In th e biological sciences non-biological explan ation is used, in w hich th e ex p lan an d u m is a biological fact, and th e ex p lan an s is composed of facts e. g. physicochem ical facts, such as in reduotionistic ex p lan ation (E. Pakszys 1980, pp. 107— 108), as w ell as s tric tly biological explanatio n, e. g. ge­ netic, teleological. D espite div erg en t opinions on th e ch a ra c te r of biological law s an d th e ir role in biological explanation, m ost au th o rs agree th a t su ch law s are fo rm u la ted in biology, b u t in view of th e specificity of biotic processes th e ir cha­ ra c te r is statistical. S im ilarly, a s tric t definitions of th e d etailed conditions is n o t alw ays possible an d th u s biological ex p lan atio n m ay correspond to th e p ro balistic version of H em pel’s m odel (H em pel 1966). A p a rt from th is m odel certain h y p o thetical explications ex plaining a given fact by a hypo­ thesis req u irin g confirm ation a re available. D espite a w eak e x p la n a to ry p o w er of su ch explan atio ns th e y co n trib u te to th e d ev elo pm en t of biology.

T he division of th e m en tio n ed kinds of ex p lanatio n in bio­ logy w as based on a logical relatio n b etw een th e explanans an d th e explan an d u m . A ssum ing as a basis fo r this division a tem p oral relatio n sh ip it is possible to discern s tru c tu ra l, causal an d teleological ex p lanations. T he ch aracteristics of these types of exp lan atio n is n o t th e aim of o u r discussion. W e stre ss only th a t stru c tu ra l-sy ste m ic ex p lan atio n is based on isochronous an d coexistentional relatio n s and aim s at co­ gnitio n of th e organization of biosystem s on th e basis of s tru c ­ tu ra l law s. In causal ex p lan atio n th e co ntents of th e sentences of th e explanan s is re la te d to phenom ena e a rlie r in relatio n to th e p henom ena in th e explanan d u m . This ty pe of expla­ n atio n in biology assum es, m ost fre q u e n tly , th e form of genetic an d historical ex planation. The fo rm e r exp lanatio n answ ers th e question about th e m a te ria l fro m w h ich an


object has been fo rm ed or w h at been its preced ing s ta te form ing a chronological genetic chain w ith causal re la ­ tions (J. Topolski 1973, pp. 512— 515). H istorical ex planation describes th e w hole se t of factors leading to th e arising of an object in its p rese n t form . It answ ers th e question, how a given object has evolved, ascribing definite m eanings a n d ex p la n a to ry arg u m en ts to v arious tem p o ral pointe a n d stages (T. A. Goudge 1967, pp. 73— 75). B o th p ro ced ures are v e ry si­ m ilar and, in view of this, some au th o rs accept th a t genetic e x p la n a tio n is a subclass of histo rical explan ation , others accept th e presence of only one com bined histo rical-g enetic ex p lan atio n {E. M ickiew icz-O lczyk 1976). T his k in d of ex ­ p lan atio n is connected w ith th e a lre ad y m entio ned problem of th e p resence an d c h a ra c te r of histo rical law s am ong th e sentences of th e explanans. Such law s a re reg a rd e d u su a lly as g eneralization s re la tin g certain o ccurrences or fe a tu re s to a definite developm ental sequence of events. Some au tho rs, in agreem en t w ith K. Popper, e. g. P. Thom son (1983) deny th e existence of historical law s in biology, oth ers, e. g. R. B ern ier (1983) point o ut th a t a biologist fo rm u lates law s, alth ou gh fre q u e n tly only im plicitly, by grasping in sen tences general co rrelatio n s an d causal and non -cau sal relationships, b u t these ■laws have a statistical ch arak ter. B ecause of th a t, h isto rical- -genetic explan ation s are prob ab ilistic explanations.

H ow ever, alth o u gh histo rical-g en etic ex p lanatio n belongs to th e causal type, teleological exp lan atio ns form a specific group. This is a proced u re in w hich th e p rese n t s ta te of a biosystem is ex plicated th ro u g h in q u irin g th e fu tu re state th a t is th e goal to w hich an organism is tending. The biosystem s con­ sid e re d are those d em o nstratin g g o al-d irected activities spe­ cifically d eterm in ed by th e fu tu re goal (M. B eckner 1959, pp. 148— 150; R. B ra ith w a ite 1960, pp. 327— 328).

Some au th o rs discern ex actly teleological from functional exlan atio n s (M. R use 1973). The la tte r appeals also to fu tu re states b u t reg a rd s th em no t as goals b u t as effect of bio- s tru c tu re functioning. It m ay co n stitute a su b ty p e of teleo­ logical exp lan atio n in view of th e sim ila rity of th e accepted procedure, especially th e m ode of obtaining e x p la n a to ry p re ­ m ises (explanans) by m ean s of prediction.

D epending on th e accepted rese a rc h s tra te g y explanations used in biology m ay assum e e ith e r a red u etio nistic ch aracter o r com positional ch aracter. This problem w ill n o t be discussed here . since th e re is an extensive lite ra tu re in th is subject.


I w ould like to stress only th a t th e w hole of th e logico-m etho- dological procedures shows m an y fe a tu re s n o t observed in o th er n a tu ra l sciences. This sta te m e n t sh o uld n ot be reg ard ed as an a rg u m e n t for th e autonom y of biology.


In th e classical m eaning th e th eo ry of know ledge (gnoseo- logy) is a philosophical reflectio n on th e process of cognition, its genesis, rang e, valu e etc. The p roblem s are discussed in th e ev alu atio n of th e role of th e senses an d reason in the cognition process (apriorism , aposteriorism , em pirism , ratio ­ nalism , irratio n alism ). W ith re g a rd to th e c h a ra c te r of th e re la tio n s betw een th e su b ject an d object of cognition it is p o in ted out th a t th e sub ject recognizes e ith e r rea l objects in d ep e n d e n t of the su b je c t an d process of cognition (epistem o- logioal realism ), o r only su b jectiv e im pressions an d in te lle c tu a l constructions (epistem ological idealism ). A n o th er group com­ prises problem s concerned w ith th e v a lid ity of know ledge, th a t is disp utes on th e d efinition of tr u th (classical, coheren- tial, p ragm atic), p ro p erties of tr u th (absolutism , relativism ) and eognizability of th e w o rld (agnosticism , scepticism , dogm a­ tism ). These and o th er problem s, as p o in ted o u t by A. J. A yer (1961, c h a p te r 1), have been undergoing a significant historical evaluatio n and w ere expressed v ario u sly depending on th e accepted philosoiphioal a ttitu d e .

The th e o ry of biological know ledge as a p a rt of m etabio- logical sciences is still, u n fo rtu n a te ly , v e ry po o rly developed, alth o u g h certain above m en tio ned problem s seem to be of g re a t im portance in biology. Am ong th em are th e disputes b etw een m ate ria lism an d idealism in biology 4, betw een neces- sitj?, p u rpo sefu ln ess an d chance 5.

4 Such disputes are conducted mainly betw een the proponents of the dialectic philoisoiphy and thomism, eg. I. T. Frolov: The struggle betw een m aterialism and, id e a lism ,.Dialectic interpretation of th e theore­ tical basis of biology, in: Filozofia i współczesna biologia (Philosophy and m odern biology), ed. I. T. Frolov, transi, from russ., W arzsawa 1976, pp. 24—63; G. Schramm: Idee und Materie in der m odernen Biologie, Bremen 1963; J. Haas: Biologie und Gottesglawbe. Der Gottesgedanke in der wissenschaftlichen Biologie von heute, Berlin 1961; R. Löther: Biologie und W eltanschauung, Berlin 1972.

5 A fter the publication of J. Monod’s book Le Hasard et la Nécessité, Paris 1970, a long discussion has developed, which began w ith the book of M. Barthélemy-Madau'le L ’idéologie du hasard et de la nécessité, P a­ ris 1972 in which she pointed out a num ber of philosophical


assumtp-D etailed gnoselogical problem s ap p ear in biology for sev eral reasons. One of th em is th e fact th a t th is know ledge is dif­ fe re n t from th a t in o th e r sciences, since, as stre sse d by J. P ia ­ get (1967, pp. 893— 900), m an as a cogitating su b ject is an organism , belongs to biology, recognizes him self also, an d this cognition m ay be reg ard ed as a p ecu liar relatio n betw een the organism and its en v iro n m ent. This im plies a relatio n betw een th e cognitive m echanism s an d th e v ita l m echanism s. By defining concepts and g eneralizing re su lts of life stu d y in g a biologist influences in som e w ay, as a living an d th ink ing individ u al, th e in te rp re ta tio n of v ita l phenom ena even w hen he stre n u o u sly avoids all form s of psychologism or an th m p o - m orphism . The cognitive processes, reg ard ed as th e highest form of reg u la to ry functions, a re re la te d by P iag et to bio­ logical-type regulations. T he cognitive process as a specific accom odation an d assim ilation is an incorporation of em pirical d ata into th e s tru c tu re s alread y possessed by th e m ind (J. P ia ­ get 1967, pp. 906— 915; 1967b; 1971; 1977). It seem s th at, w it­ h o u t sh arin g th e view s of P iag et, his suggestion m ay be used fo r th e ex ten d in g of reflex io n s on th e specificity of biolo­ gical know ledge.

In th e cognition process is a passage from a low er to a h ig h er grade of cred ibility and gnoseology is a th e o ry of credible know ledge, th en, a p a rt fro m th e logico-m ethodo- logical procedures, th e problem s include th e relation s betw een su b ject and object an d d eterm in atio n of w h a t cognition is reaching to a re a lity (J. P iag et 1977, p. 21). In th e context of v ariu s in v estig ato ry activities an d th e ir connections w ith respect to cognitive aim s th e im portance em erges of th e re ­ lation of th e th e o ry to experience and to re a lity itself. Besides e lm e n ta ry (observational) term s biological theories com prise m an y concepts an d th eo retical sta te m e n ts w hose relatio n to re a lity is fre q u e n tly questionable. In th e sem antic aspect, such th eo retical concepts have th e ir designations as onto­ logical eq uiv alen ts called th eo retical object, e. g. "gene” ., H ow ever, it is n o t obvious w h e th e r a biological th eo ry con­ tain s a sta te m e n t of th e existence of an unobservable object such as the gene. The answ ers v a ry on account of th e m u lti­ p licity of view s on th e n a tu re of a scientific th eo ry (hypothe- tism , induotionism , instu m en talism ), and th e v d riety of theories tions in the views of Monad, among them cartesianism, existentialism , and the resulting ideological and general consequences.


of m eaning, sense and o bject-referen ce (M. B unge 1976, pp. 13— 23; 1973). This leads d irectly to th e concepts of tr u th an d to th e th e o ry of tru th , in general, an d th is th e o ry is th e s u b je c t of incessant discussions. A cceptance of a given th e o ry of tr u th an d its recognition as n o t o nly a fe a tu re of sta te m e n ts b u t also as an extra-logical value, e ith e r autotelic or in s tru ­ m en tal, depends, on th e o th e r hand, on th e consensus of ontological an d epistem ologioal view s. In th e case of biology a n d o th er n a tu ra l sciences th e concepts o f tr u th or falsity are re la te d to a definite application of a th eo ry , th a t is to a de­ fin ite em pirical system . Of decisive significance for th e tr u th or falsity of a th e o ry or hyp o th esis are: 1. th e actu al sta te in th is system to w hich a given sentence is rela te d , an d 2. th e language convention in w hich a given th e o ry has been fo rm u lated. In a less a b stract w ay th is m an ifests itse lf as th e establishing of an ag reem en t or disagreem en t of th e th e o ry w ith exp erim en t. A nd in practice, it is difficult to estab lish th is a g re e m e n t (R. W ójcicki 1977, pp. 94— 108).

T he th eo ry of biological know ledge, as show n above, should include analyses and discussions of concepts, principles and categories ocouring in biological cognition, aspecially th e values and tr u th of th is cognition. D espite its im p ortance th ese p ro ­ blem s a re n o t p erceived, as y et no sy stem atic stud ies and attem p ts to create of an ad eq u ate biological th eo ry of know ­ ledge have b een u n d e rta k en .


T he g en erally accepted definition of epistom ology, called also som etim es th e th eo ry of know ledge or gnoseology, is u n derstoo d here to red u ce to th e pro b lem of th e basic as­ sum ptions p re se n t in th e biological sciences and th e m ost

g eneral resu lts of these sciences in th e aspects of th e ir v alid ity and scientific usefulness.

In d icatin g a n eed for th e p hilosophy of biology R. S a ttle r (1986, p. 5) stated :

A ll biological sta te m e n ts a n d questions have th eo retical and philosophical foundations. We can grasp th e fu ll sig n i­ ficance of biological sta te m e n ts and questions only to the e x te n t th a t we are a w a re of th e ir foundations. H ence, bio- philosophy concerned w ith foundations is of p aram o u n t im p o rtan ce to biology.

T he p resen ce of su ch assum ptions re su lts from th e fact th a t a scientific th eo ry is an excep tion ally com plex s tru c tu re , com­


p o s e d n o t only of facts, law s an d hypotheses, b u t also of sets

of sen tences called th e in trin sic or ex trin sic basis, a n d a de­ fin ite class of logical consequences. A ll sta te m e n ts of a th eo ry should be em p irically v erifiab le sen tences w h ich a re v a ria b ly understood. This is in th e case of th e th e o ry on th e v erifiab le in trin sic basis, b u t u su ally th ese th eo ries are expressed as axiom s. M ost or p erh ap s all, em pirical th eories are fo rm u la ted by m eans of u n v erifiab le sentences, a lth o u g h th e y a re v e ri­ fiable them selves. A ttem p ts to rem ove u n v erifib ale assum ptions fro m science, u n d e rta k e n e. g. by R. C arn ap (T e sta b ility and

m eaning 1937), gave no resu lts.

T he presence of n o n -v erifiab le foundations in science, in ­ cluding also biology, causes no doubts now. No scientific know ledge is free of them , th e y a re unavoidable, alth ou gh th e y are u su a lly accepted im plicitly. A ccording to H. M ehlberg (1966, p. 360) "em p irically u n v erifiab le sentences p lay in science only an a u x ilia ry role (although indispensable) of ele­ m ents of ex trinsic bases for th e v erifiab le scientific theories and, as such, th e y do n o t derange th e a d e q u ate ly u n d erstoo d po stu late of v e rifia b ility ”. These assum ptions are n o t stu died by physicists or biologists, th e y are n ot becom ing philosophers since th e ir tasks, resu ltin g from th e accepted m ethods, include em pirical testin g of th e tr u th an d genuiness of th e ir conse­ quences (ibid., p. 360).

The m entio ned basic assum ptions m ay be of various type: ontological and m etaphysical, co ncerning th e existence of objects and phenom ena, a n d relatio ns b etw een objects; axio- logical — in th e sense of estim ation of a choice of a field of studies and questions; epistem ological — connected w ith th e question concerning th e cognizability of w orld, th e u n ity and lim its of know ledge.

The sta rtin g foundations discussed, am ong others, by S. No­ w ak (1984, pp. 26— 28), an d serv in g also as a source for fo r­ m ulatio n of n ew rese a rc h problem s and for ex p ost analysis of the basis of an alread y developed science, is th a t th e y cannot be an a rg u m e n t for th e tr u th of th e th e o ry based on them , w hile th e successes of rese a rc h in th is science m ay confirm in d ire ctly th e v alid ity of sta rtin g assum ptions.

In biology assum ptions of th is ty p e w ere analysed, am ong others, by M. B eckner (1964, pp. 15— 29). H e stresses th a t th e y are r a th e r certain beliefs of th e re se a rc h e r assum ed u n ­ consciously or fo rm u la ted v e ry gen erally , an d influencing th e form of re su lts or in te rp re ta tio n of th e procedure. T hey are


called m etap h ysical presuppositions an d are th o u g h t to be an indispensable w orking back gro u n d of m odern biology.

A p a rt from in d icatin g th e philosophical presuppositions p re ­ sen t in th e basis of th e biological sciences, th e epistem ology of biology is concerned w ith th e m ost g en eral re s u lts o f th ese sciences, th a t is th e m ost f a r reach in g g en eralizatio ns a n d extrapo latio n s, w h ich a re connected w ith th e actu al d a ta covered b y th e th e o ry b u t th is connection is r a th e r loose, and as u n v e rifia b le these re su lts exceed th e ifram ew ork of the biological sciences. B y ex trap o latio n w e m ean g en eralizatio ns and biological th eo ries of su ch a ty p e th a t n e ith e r th e y alone n or th e conclusions d raw n fro m th e m are v erifiab le in direct or in d ire ct ex p erim en ts. It is n o t n ecessary to suggest test im plications and extrap o latio n s since th is is th e w ork of the biologists, b u t th e ir scientific usefulness sh o u ld ibe evatu ated, and th e q uestion sh ould be answ ered , w h e th e r a n d in w h a t degree th ey are au th o rized , an d w h e th e r th e y co n tribu te to th e in itia tio n o f n ew d irectio n s a n d fields of studies. The p re ­ sence of e x tra p o la tiv e elem ents are fo u n d in m an y biological theories, a n d p a rtic u la rly in ones in w h ic h th e process of reco n stru ctio n p lay s a n im p o rta n t role, e. g. in th e stu d y of th e genesis a n d evolution of life.

If fro m a se t of sta te m e n ts and hypotheses of biological theories, besides te s t im plications, also ex trap o latio n s re su lt as too far-re a ch in g conclusions w hich can n o t be v erified >di- reo tly o r in d ire ctly , or be falsified ev en tually , it should foe established, w h e th e r such h y potheses a re u n v e rifia b le fo r th e m om ent, e. g. in view o f im p erfectio n s of th is m eth o d o r too sm all ra n g e of studies, o r m a y be u n v e rifia b le in principle. In th e la tte r sta te m e n ts sen ten ces m ay have been included w hich contain in su ffic ien tly precise ooneept w hich have no unequivocal designations, a n d th u s th e sen tence re su ltin g from th e h y p o th esis is unsolvafole, th a t is facts of w h ich it speaks are n o n -ex isten t. H ypotheses or s ta te m e n ts w hich are essen­ tia lly u n v e rifia b le should be e lim in ated fro m biology as evi­ dence of pseudoproblem s.


It seem s th a t w h e n a science is in th e stage of form ation an d h as n o t y et been su fficien tly developed th eo re tic ally , the tasks to be u n d e rta k e n firs t sh o u ld be: 1. indication of a set of problem s w h ich is to be stu d ie d b y it, 2. detailed stu dies should b e u n d e rta k e n or, if th a t h ad been done alread y ,


th e ir re su lts should be collected, an d th en 3. a com prehensive th eo ry of th is science is to be fo rm u lated. It seem s th a t this is th e case w ith th e philosophy of biology w h ich has n o t y e t com pleted th e second of th e above stages, and a t a n y rate, has n o t y et been expressed as a m ore o r less u n ifie d system w ith it sh ares in larg e m easu re its fa te an d ch aracter, philosophy of biology accepted b y m yself m a y be reg ard ed as sum m ation of th e first and, in p a rt, th e second stages, seem to cover th e w hole of this p roblem w hich has a m eta- biological ch aracter. Its m ain body are th e problem s of a lo- gieo-m ethodological analysis of th e science of life. This u su ally raises no doubts.

On th e o th er hand, the gnoseological-epistem ological p ro ­ blem s are v ario u sly a n d in v arious degree considered, and this leads to ferv e n t discussions. The cause of d issen t m ay corne from tw o in terco n n ected sources:

1. the specificity of living system s, th e v a rie ty of v ita l stru c tu re s an d functions, th e ir goal-^orientation a n d w holeness;

2. th e m u ltip lic ity of biological disciplines, th e ir d iv e rsity — from m olecular biology to ev o lu tion ary biology — and, con­ sequen tly , th e necessity of using v arious rese a rc h strategies. Since biology is so diversified due to th e co m plexity of th e living w orld, and th e m ethods of stud ies as w ell as th e degree of th eo retical progression, the philosophy of biology connected w ith it sh ares in larg e m easu re its fate and ch aracter. Because of th a t th e re is as y et no coh eren t and gldbal concept of th e philosophy of biology. T his justifies, e. g. H u ll’s or R u se’s selection of only one field of in te re st, e. g. m olecular biology or evolutionism as a su b ject of th e ir m etaobjective analyses.

C onsidering th e m etascientific c h a ra c te r of th e philosophy of biology it could be said th a t th e problem s of gnoseology and epistem ology do n o t belong to biology as su ch in view of em pirical research m ethods used in it. T hey are inclu d ed into th e philosophy of biology, b u t also w ith certain r e ­ strictions. F o r exam ple, le t us consider th e in itial assum ptions. The task of th e philosophy of biology h e re w ould be detection of th e (in ex trin sic base) presu pp o tio n s on w hich th e th eo ry in biology is based, and d eterm in atio n of th e ir philosophical ch aracter. W hen th e y could n o t be elim in ated from th e th e o ry w ith o u t decreasing sin g ificantly its value, th e n th e y are re ­ legated resp ectiv ely into ontology, m etaphysics or axiology of science depending on th e ir type. A philosopher of biology


as a m eta-scien tist is n o t necessarily an ontologist or m eta - physicist, n a d p ro b ab ly could n ot be. It is su fficien t th a t he dem o n strated th e n ecessity of accepting a given assum ption, even a u n v erifiab le one, and its role in th e th e o ry of biology, w hich is as a ru le verifiable.

T he p rob lem of th e p e c u liar c h a ra c te r of th e philosophy of biology an d its delim itation against o th e r sciences, alth ou gh in te restin g in itself, assum e f u rth e r im p o rtance as fa r as th e relatio n of n a tu ra l sciences to philosophy is concerned. The an aly sis of this rela tio n w o u ld be w ith o u t th e scope of th is discussion, b u t deserves a tte n tio n because of th e p lace of th e philosophy of biology am ong o th e r sciences.

The philosophy of biology as a p a rt of th e philosophy of n a tu ra l sciences, show s a lre ad y n a tu ra l connections w ith th e biological sciences as th e su b ject of its studies. The sta te of biological stud ies d eterm ines, in som e w ay, th e ran g e of logioal-m ethodologieal-epistem ological analyses. T he m erging of th e ph ilosophy of biology w ith biology an d th e dependence of th e level of the fo rm er on th e progression and developm ent of th e la tte r is n o t n ecessarily evidence of th e ir id en tity (Sz. W. Slaga 1969, p. 1473). Biology is an em pirical science stuidying processes and objects in n a tu re b y m eans of o b ser­ vation, fo rm u latio n of law s, hypotheses a n d theo ries. This level of objective stu d y is fre q u e n tly confounded w ith th e m etaob jectiv e level. All problem s exceeding th e ran g e of bio­ logy are u n c ritic a lly q u alified as belonging to some philosophy of biology, often n o t defined sufficiently. I have been try in g to d em o n strate th a t th e philosophy о biology is n o t an em pirical science, b u t a discipline analysing biology in its logical-m ethodological a n d gnoseologioal-epistem ological as­ pects.

T he philosophy of biology as a m etascience is also n e ith e r ontology n or m etaphysics n o r so called philosophy of n a tu re , since these disciplines have an objective ch a ra c te r stu d y in g th e re a lly existing w o rld ("the re a l r e a lity ” according to N. W itehead) in th e aspects of its n a tu re an d existence. The ontological problem s concerning th e n a tu re and re a l existence of living organism s m ay be an alysed philosophically w ith in th e fram ew o rk of th e philosophy of an im ate n a tu re (as is th e case e. g. in th e tra d itio n al Thom ism ) or in a n o th e r ty p e of ontology e.


ex-D espite a sy m p a th y for th e tra d itio n of thom ism . I ad m it th a t th e te rm "philosophy of a n im a te n a tu r e ” is ra th e r a w k w ard an d incon v enient in use. I w ould like to propose h e re a m ore op erativ e term , th a t is "ibiophilosophy” . In a n a ­ logy to biology as a n em pirical science of life, th is w ould be a philosophy of life — biophilosophy, d iffe re n t from th e p h i­ losophy of biology as a m etascience. B iophilosophy w ould include su ch e .g . ontological problem s as d eterm in ism , cau­ sality , teleology, n a tu re of life etc 7. T he m eth od of p ractice of biophilosophy w ould depend, n a tu ra lly , on th e accepted ty p e of ontology.

T hese considerations suggest th e a n sw e r to th e question posed in th e title. The philosophy of biology is n o t and cannot be e ith e r th eo retical biology or biophilosophy as an ontology of life, b u t is a m etascience covering th e logical-m e- fhodological-epistem ological analyses of biological sciences. In view of this, te rtiu m d atu r: th e philosophy of biology is the philosophy of biology.


Ayer A. J. 1961: The problem of knowledge, Harm ondw arth, Penguin Books.

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