Book review: do microbes question standard thinking in the philosophy of biology?
This is a highly welcome book that offers a fresh perspective on the philosophy of biology.1 It is of interest to both philosophers and biologists and to experienced readers as well as novices. The book is structured into four sections ‘Science’, ‘Biology’, ‘Microbes’ and ‘Humans’ and consists of a collection of articles written by John Dupré over the past few years. A very wide range of topics are discussed. Among other things, Dupré defends a pluralism that emphasizes that while there is only physical stuff, the kind of things composed of this stuff are fundamentally diverse, a modest form of social constructivism, the inseparability of science and values, the thesis of promiscuous individualism that there are various ways of dividing living systems into organisms and an anti-reductionist position about biology stating that complex objects possess properties that are autonomous from properties of their constituent parts. Dupré also argues that the success in understanding the chemical basis of genetics has undermined a simplistic view of inheritance, that the New Synthesis is flawed and instead evolutionary theory is a theory in flux, that biological individuals are typically symbiotic wholes involving many organisms of radically different kinds and genomes, that cooperation is a characteristic of life, that medicine has to take seriously the microbial symbiotic relationships, that contrary to evolutionary psychology human beings are in fact pretty well adapted to modern life, that in no sense of the word ‘gene’ can biological legitimacy be given to the concept of human race, that human nature as something fixed and constant throughout the human species is an illusion and that a denial of genetic determinism gives way to a robust sense of human autonomy.
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