The Importance of Biology to Philosophy: THE CASE FOR PHILOSOPHY OF BIOLOGY
This paper argues for the importance of issues raised by biology to the practice of philosophy. Acknowledging the importance of biology to philosophy would also mean that the study and knowledge of biology is also important. At first blush this may be obvious to some when they think of bioethics or medical ethics. The overwrought issue of abortion and contraception immediately come to mind. However, there are other issues that bear directly on philosophical discussion. As a field of study, this is called philosophy of biology, involving discussions between scientists and philosophers. Philosophy of biology features works of scientists and philosophers from the issues stemming from evolution, sociobiology, the human genome project and creationism.
Difficulties in recognizing such a field arise for those who think that there is an unbridgeable gulf between science and philosophy. Many of those who engage in philosophy of biology do not think of such a gulf, for many of them are naturalists. Naturalism is the view that philosophy is continuous with science. While naturalism is not an unproblematic view and methodology, it has flourished in philosophy of biology. Philosophers, insofar as they are not naturalists, would probably argue the importance of philosophy to biology. Arguing for the importance of philosophy to biology may be satisfactory to traditional philosophical discussion. But what of problems stemming from issues found in biology? Should philosophers be ignorant of these issues? A case in point would be human nature. Researches in sociobiology and genetics have reframed the question of human nature. Whereas before one can think of an armchair intellectual reflecting on his thoughts; it would be more difficult now to ignore the findings of the fields just mentioned.
Historically, the American pragmatists Peirce, James and Dewey recognized the significance of Darwin. Unfortunately, mischaracterizations of their thoughts proved to downplay their contributions to philosophy. Thankfully, recent philosophers like Elliot Sober, Philip Kitcher and Peter Godfrey-Smith has led to recover this significance.
Philosophy’s relevance can be found anew by acknowledging the importance of biology. The former cannot stay in the armchair. Many of the issues raised by findings in the latter are not merely for abstract theorizing in the classroom. While such theorizing does have its place, the concerns raised in biology are for all human beings, philosopher or not.