Thesis ID: CBB001560506

A Theory of Conceptual Advance: Explaining Conceptual Change in Evolutionary, Molecular, and Evolutionary Developmental Biology (2006)


Brigandt, Ingo (Author)

Griffiths, Paul E.
University of Pittsburgh
Gupta, Anil

Publication Date: 2006
Edition Details: Advisor: Gupta, Anil; Paul E. Griffiths
Physical Details: 501 pp.
Language: English

The theory of concepts advanced in the dissertation aims at accounting for (a) how a concept makes successful practice possible, and (b) how a scientific concept can be subject to rational change in the course of history. Traditional accounts in the philosophy of science have usually studied concepts in terms only of their reference; their concern is to establish a stability of reference in order to address the incommensurability problem. My discussion, in contrast, suggests that each scientific concept consists of three components of content: (1) reference, (2) inferential role, and (3) the epistemic goal pursued with the concept's use. I argue that in the course of history a concept can change in any of these three components, and that change in one component---including change of reference---can be accounted for as being rational relative to other components, in particular a concept's epistemic goal. This semantic framework is applied to two cases from the history of biology: the homology concept as used in 19 th and 20 th century biology, and the gene concept as used in different parts of the 20 th century. The homology case study argues that the advent of Darwinian evolutionary theory, despite introducing a new definition of homology, did not bring about a new homology concept (distinct from the pre-Darwinian concept) in the 19th century. Nowadays, however, distinct homology concepts are used in systematics/evolutionary biology, in evolutionary developmental biology, and in molecular biology. The emergence of these different homology concepts is explained as occurring in a rational fashion. The gene case study argues that conceptual progress occurred with the transition from the classical to the molecular gene concept, despite a change in reference. In the last two decades, change occurred internal to the molecular gene concept, so that nowadays this concept's usage and reference varies from context to context. I argue that this situation emerged rationally and that the current variation in usage and reference is conducive to biological practice. The dissertation uses ideas and methodological tools from the philosophy of mind and language, the philosophy of science, the history of science, and the psychology of concepts.


Description Two case studies of change over time: the 19th- and 20th-century homology concept and the 20th-century gene concept. Cited in Diss. Abstr. Int. A 67/09 (2007). UMI pub. no. 3232758.

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Authors & Contributors
Maienschein, Jane A.
Hopwood, Nick
Creath, Richard
Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg
Wimsatt, William C.
Morgan, Gregory J.
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Biology and Philosophy
History of Science
International Journal of Developmental Biology
History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences
Cambridge University Press
Harvard University Press
Blackwell Publishers
Duke University Press
Developmental biology
Philosophy of biology
Molecular biology
Darwin, Charles Robert
Lamarck, Jean Baptiste Antoine Pierre de Monet de
Levins, Richard
Mill, John Stuart
Müller, Hermann Joseph
Husserl, Edmund
Time Periods
20th century
19th century
21st century
20th century, late
18th century
Great Britain

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