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Darwinian ReductionismOr, How to Stop Worrying and Love Molecular Biology$
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Alexander Rosenberg

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780226727295

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226727318.001.0001

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What Was Reductionism?

What Was Reductionism?

Chapter:
(p.25) 1 What Was Reductionism?
Source:
Darwinian Reductionism
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226727318.003.0002

This chapter shows how the philosophical problem of reductionism has been modified over the course of the last half century by discoveries in biology and advances in the philosopher's understanding of biology. It explains how and why the Darwinian character of biological phenomena precludes any straightforward reduction of the sort we are familiar with from physical science. The key is to recognize that once nature begins to select among traits of organisms, it does so by selecting them for their effects on survival and reproduction. Natural selection cannot discriminate between structurally different traits with the same effects, especially when the structural differences are slight. Since many different structures will have the same or similar effects on the survival and reproduction of the organisms that bear them, structural heterogeneity among equally well adapted organisms will be commonplace. The sort of reduction physical science leads us to expect cannot deal with the prospect that processes to be explained by reduction to their components are the products of a diverse and unmanageably large number of different, more basic processes, that is, are “multiply realized.”

Keywords:   biology, reductionism, Darwin, natural selection, physical science, structural heterogeneity, multiple realizability

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