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How Is Biological Explanation Possible?

Alex Rosenberg
The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Vol. 52, No. 4 (Dec., 2001), pp. 735-760
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3541917
Page Count: 26
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How Is Biological Explanation Possible?
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Abstract

That biology provides explanations is not open to doubt. But how it does so must be a vexed question for those who deny that biology embodies laws or other generalizations with the sort of explanatory force that the philosophy of science recognizes. The most common response to this problem has involved redefining law so that those grammatically general statements which biologists invoke in explanations can be counted as laws. But this terminological innovation cannot identify the source of biology's explanatory power. I argue that because biological science is historical, the problem of biological explanation can be assimilated to the parallel problem in the philosophy of history, and that the problem was solved by Carl Hempel. All we need to do is recognize that the only laws that biology-in all its compartments from the molecular onward-has or needs are the laws of natural selection.

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