Journal Article

How is Biological Explanation Possible?

Alex Rosenberg

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 52, issue 4, pages 735-760
Published in print December 2001 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online December 2001 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/52.4.735
How is Biological Explanation Possible?

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That biology provides explanations is not open to doubt. But how it does so must be a vexed question for those who deny that biology embodies laws or other generalizations with the sort of explanatory force that the philosophy of science recognizes. The most common response to this problem has involved redefining law so that those grammatically general statements which biologists invoke in explanations can be counted as laws. But this terminological innovation cannot identify the source of biology's explanatory power. I argue that because biological science is historical, the problem of biological explanation can be assimilated to the parallel problem in the philosophy of history, and that the problem was solved by Carl Hempel. All we need to do is recognize that the only laws that biology—in all its compartments from the molecular onward—has or needs are the laws of natural selection.

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Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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