The Essence of Life

A Scientific Philosophical Perspective
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The Philosophy of Biology

Part III   On the Relation Between the Philosophy of Biology and Philosophy

Philosophy is concerned with the most general, wide-ranging questions about existence, i.e., the universe with all its ingredients, including human beings. These questions are divided into three main areas: metaphysics, which deals with the nature of the universe as a whole; epistemology, which studies the nature of our knowledge about the universe and the means by which it is acquired; and ethics, which defines the principles by which we should lead our lives.

The philosophy of biology, however, deals with more concrete philosophical questions − questions about the phenomena of life in the context of biological research.

In addition, the philosophy of biology is mainly devoted, as mentioned above, to biological knowledge, i.e. to epistemological questions.

This study is divided into three main categories.

The first, addresses the meaning of central concepts, such as 'biological species', 'organism', 'gene', and of course 'life'.

The study of 'life', for example, includes such questions as:

What is life?

Is there a fundamental character common to all living organisms, with all their enormous diversity, which distinguishes them from the inanimate world?

Would it be possible to create artificial forms of life, and if so, what are their necessary characteristics?

A second category of this epistemological study deals with the soundness and validity of biological knowledge, i.e. of central premises, theories and explanations in biology, such as the theory of natural selection and genetic explanations of the processes of heredity and development.

A third kind of this study aims at organizing and integrating biological knowledge, e.g., the data and insights acquired in different fields of biology such as genetics, developmental biology and evolution.

The great achievements of biology in the last hundred years and their technological applications in various areas had far-reaching implications for human life. Ethical issues raised by these technological innovations, primarily in the areas of medicine and agriculture, and their effects on our lives, are also included in the philosophy of biology, e.g., ethical questions concerning lifesaving and life-prolonging treatments, genetic mapping and identification of genetic disorders, and development of new breeds and species by means of genetic engineering.

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Therefore, the philosophy of biology − the meeting between philosophy and biology − is a broad, diverse and complex interdisciplinary research field, which deals with philosophical questions, primarily epistemological questions, in the context of biology.

This study includes examination, analysis, evaluation, integration and systematization of biological knowledge − the concepts and ideas, the premises and arguments, the explanations and theories, which constitute the foundation of biology.

The study involves reading books and articles − research studies, theories and explanations in the various fields of biology − and conducting critical intellectual inquiry: identifying fundamental concepts and ideas presented in the studies, analyzing their meanings, examining their soundness, integrating and consolidating them, as well as evaluating their implications on biological research and on our perception of life in general and our lives in particular.