International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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THURSDAY, JULY 9  /  09:00 - 10:30  /  DS-1520
Individual papers
19th- and 20th-Century Perspectives on Cell Theory

Darwin's reasoner: Chauncey Wright as philosopher of biology

Trevor Pearce (University of North Carolina at Charlotte, United States)

In this paper I demonstrate that Chauncey Wright--an early pragmatist and friend of Peirce and James, whom Darwin deployed as "a sound reasoner" in his debate with St. George Jackson Mivart--was a philosopher of biology avant la lettre. Despite a lack of training in biology, Wright deployed his mathematical and philosophical skills to great effect in a series of articles on evolution. His debate with Mivart, in particular, foreshadowed not only the "factors of evolution" controversy of the 1890s but also the discussion--resurrected by Stephen Jay Gould in the 1970s--of internal versus external causes in evolution. Although other scholars have noted these connections, they have not pursued them in any detail, since their interest has been focused on positivism, pragmatism, or the evolution of consciousness. The paper has three parts. First, I present Wright’s positivist philosophy of science, which played a key role in his debate with Mivart. Next, I describe Wright’s conversion to Darwinism, and show that he was making mathematical and philosophical arguments about the Origin of Species within months of its appearance. Finally, I argue that although Wright, in his debate with Mivart, seems at first to be defending a strong externalist or selectionist position, he is actually making the philosophical point that proposed causes of evolution must be backed up by empirical evidence, and cannot simply be postulated in the abstract. Wright was engaged in a form of reasoning that has striking parallels with that of philosophers of biology today. He did not himself present any empirical evidence, but he did outline the form such evidence would need to take to support any purportedly new account of the evolutionary process. In this era of the so-called "extended synthesis," Wright may still have something to teach us.

Protoplasmic structure and the end (?) of cell theory in the 1890s

Daniel Liu (University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States)

This paper will argue that cytology and the concept of the cell suffered a severe crisis among many biologists in the 1890s, a crisis that would precipitate biologists' rapid and often confusing embrace of colloid chemistry in the 1910s and ’20s. To key insiders, what had seemed like a decade of fantastic progress in the 1880s gave way to radical doubts about fundamental methods in cytology, the proliferation of terminology and neologisms in the discipline, and even the legitimacy of the word “cell” itself. This paper will examine at three biologists working in the 1890s — the botanist Alfred Fischer, the protozoologist Otto Bütschli, and the physiologist William Bate Hardy — and their critiques of the staining and fixation techniques that had been widely used the decade prior. As part of their investigation into the fundamental methods of cytology, Fischer, Bütschli, and Hardy played a pivotal role in introducing artificial preparations such as gelatine and agarose as models of protoplasmic structure, bridging an ontological and epistemological gap between cell studies and the nascent discipline of colloid chemistry.Yet, rather than solve these fundamental issues, I will suggest that the controversies they generated only prolonged the crisis in cytology, until it crisis slowly dissipated through the interwar period.

Exploratory investigation in the philosophy of C.S. Peirce

Niall Roe (University of Calgary, Canada)

C.K. Waters (2003, 2007, 2008, manuscript) has argued for the importance of exploratory investigation in scientific practice (also Burrian 1997, Elliot 2007, O’Malley 2007, Steinle 1997). This paper determines the extent to which Waters’ account of exploratory reasoning is compatible with the philosophy of C.S. Peirce. It does so in two steps. First, I describe Waters’ notion of exploratory investigation, focusing on determining the necessary and sufficient conditions for calling a type of inquiry exploratory. Secondly, I look to Peirce’s philosophy, determining whether exploratory investigation is endorsed on his understanding of scientific practice. I conclude that Peirce’s philosophy supports the sort of exploratory investigation Waters endorses. Further, this investigation clarifies a potential role of hypothesis within exploratory reasoning. Comparing Waters and Peirce is fruitful for many reasons. First, understanding Waters in Peircean terms offers further insight into investigative reasoning. Peirce’s account of inquiry is hypothesis-based. This seems to run counter to a purely exploratory investigation, which emphasizes a lack of preconceived ideas in inquiring (e.g. taking apart a watch to see how it works). As such, it is not initially clear how or whether Waters’ account is able to incorporate such hypothesis-based systems. This paper uses Peirce to clarify how exploratory investigation can still flourish in a hypothesis-based system of inquiry. Secondly, Waters’ epistemology is pragmatic in tenor, inviting comparisons with Peircean pragmatism. And while certain agreements between the two are evident (e.g., the importance of viewing science as a working practice), there also appear to be substantial differences (e.g. Peirce’s requirement that science tends towards a ‘final’ position). Resolving these tensions helps place Waters in a historical context and helps gauge the continued relevance of Peirce in philosophy of science.