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

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TUESDAY, JULY 7  /  17:30 - 19:00  /  DS-M220
Individual papers
From Cell Theory to Complex Systems: On Metaphors and Mechanisms

The double history and the present of neuroethics

Nadia El Eter (Université Paul Valéry Montpellier III, France); Pascal Nouvel (Université Paul Valery Montpellier III, France)

In this paper, we suggest to redefine the emergence of the young discpline, neuroethics, as a result of a double history and see a concrete model. Neuroethics emerge from two main disciplines: philosophy and cognitive neuroscience. So to understand the nature of the discipline we need to comprehend the historical process of the study of moral cognition in both paralleled points of view the philosophical one and cognitive neuroscience. Accordingly, the presentation will have three main parts. The first part will be focusing on the "psychologization" of moral judgment, the first turning interest from the normative ethics to the mechanism underlying morality actually starts with philosophers. With many Anglo-Saxon philosophers like Hume, Smith and Hutcheson, the focus is displaced to study the role of passion and sentiments in moral judgment. This hypothesis goes with large contemporary experimental studies. In the second we will study the role of advanced neuroscience’s technology and methods in the emergence of neuroethics. Cognitive neurosciences since the late 19th century is mostly concerned with the relation between complex psychological phenomena. Its starts basically with the study of cerebral lesion arriving to more developed technologies that detect the brain activation. But how these two histories are reflected in current neuroethical research? In the third part we will present the example of dual-process moral cognition of Joshua Greene. This theory is representative of neuroethical studies, because it is based on neuroscientific evidences with normative implications. The most interesting part of this model concerns the way it is used to defend a new version of “deep pragmatism” in moral philosophy.

On the relationship between metaphors and mechanistic explanations: Informational concepts in molecular biology

Tomoko Ishida (Keio University, Japan)

Today, there are various informational concepts within the life sciences. In the early days of molecular biology, scientists started to use these concepts intensively. The concept of genetic information had been formed since then and was established once the gene expression mechanism had been clarified. Many biologists and philosophers have discussed the concept of genetic information. Some people consider the concept indispensable, whereas others do not. Sahotra Sarkar is in the latter camp. He characterizes explanations of molecular biology as being mechanistic and argues that informational concepts are not theoretical. According to him, informational concepts are misleading metaphors. At first glance, his argument seems to be plausible. In reductionist explanations of molecular biology, physico-chemical terms are exclusively used as explanantia. Therefore, the role of informational concepts (if any) are educational or heuristic at best. Despite Sarkar's arguments, informational concepts have not disappeared from the life sciences. In fact, new informational concepts like intercellular communication and crosstalk between proteins have been introduced. In this paper, I will reconsider the role of informational concepts as metaphors. I will then clarify the relationship between these metaphors and the mechanistic explanations found in molecular biology.

Evo-devo mechanisms revisited: A process account

Jan Baedke (Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany); Fabrizzio Guerrero Mc Manus (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico)

This paper addresses the explanatory and conceptual framework of the mechanistic science of evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) which investigates how environmental cues can induce morphological novelties, how developmental mechanisms bias and constrain evolutionary trajectories, and how biological systems generate heritable, adaptive phenotypic variation and thus evolve in evolution. We argue that what recently has been described as genuine explanations in evo-devo – Brett Calcott’s so-called linage explanations – are, if at all, simple developmental explanations. In contrast, evo-devoists, in fact, explain by interrelating two kinds of models: mechanistic models describing relations on a developmental time scale with models tracing homologies and taxonomic distribution of species’ traits on an evolutionary time scale. This integration is guided by a theoretical framework which defines the explanatory and methodological standards for both kinds of models. In particular, it provides a special process view of mechanisms which differs significantly from how the new mechanistic philosophy conceptualizes mechanisms. This view guides investigations on the origin and change of levels of organization (i.e. evolvability and evolutionary novelty). Thus, explanatory integration in evo-devo does not occur in a loosely defined ‘trading zone’, as Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther has argued, but within a conceptually and methodologically firm framework. Studies on gene regulatory networks and homology will be reviewed to support these findings.