Special Issue "Renegotiating Disciplinary Fields in the Life Sciences"
A special issue of Philosophies (ISSN 2409-9287).
Deadline for manuscript submissions: 30 June 2020.
Interests: biological systematics; evolutionary developmental biology; philosophy of biology
Recent and ongoing debates in biology and still more in the philosophy of biology reveal a widespread dissatisfaction with traditional explanatory frameworks. This is, for instance, the case of Neo-Darwinism, as it has been frequently advocated that evolutionary biology should replace the traditional gene-centered perspective with an organism-centered extended evolutionary synthesis, to account, e.g., for inclusive inheritance extending beyond genes and for phenotypic variation resulting from nonrandom mutation or biased by developmental processes.
There are also problems with the current definitions or circumscriptions, often vague or controversial, of key concepts such as gene, species, and homology, and even of whole disciplinary fields within the life sciences, like developmental biology. For instance, there is no reason to restrict the latter to the study of normal, undisturbed ontogeny (e.g., from egg to adult, or in reparative regeneration); it could legitimately extend to the investigation of dysfunctional processes such as carcinogenesis, and to the production of phenotypes other than morphological ones, e.g., so-called temporal phenotypes.
To some extent, growing awareness of these conceptual issues and the contrasting views defended in their regard can be construed as marks of healthy debates in the field; however, this is also arguably a symptom of the need to revisit traditional, unchallenged partitions between the specialist disciplines within the life sciences.
It can be argued that biological disciplines and their boundaries need to be reorganized. This is already happening in evolutionary developmental biology, which is not the product of a simple addition of evolutionary biology and developmental biology, but a field articulating its own research program around a set of original core concepts such as robustness, evolvability, modularity, and innovation.
Due to their neutrality with respect to taxonomic identity, level of complexity, and nature (e.g., morphological vs. processual) of the properties on which the analysis is focused, robustness and evolvability of living systems are candidate pivotal notions for a re-organization of disciplinary fields within biology.
Prof. Alessandro Minelli
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- disciplinary boundaries in biology
- evolutionary developmental biology
- non-adaptive developmental processes
- robustness of living systems
- temporal phenotypes