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Biological Parts

Marie I. Kaiser

Pages 96 - 99

The view that the living world is divided into part-whole hierarchies can already be found in ancient philosophy (cf. Aristoteles’ De partibus animalium) and it is deeply embedded in the biological sciences. Biologists represent objects as being constituted by a certain collection of organised parts. For example, cells are said to consist of a cell membrane that surrounds the cytoplasm that contains various organelles. Assumptions about partwhole relations are involved in classifications of biological objects into kinds (e.g., the assumption that fish have gills, whereas mammals have lungs). Furthermore, the methodological principle that one can understand the behavior of a biological object by decomposing it into its parts remains important for generating knowledge in the biological sciences (Bechtel/Richardson 2010).

1Philosophy Department, University of Bielefeld

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7 Kaiser, M. I., (2017), “Individuating Part-Whole in the Biological World”, in: Bueno, O.; Chen, R.-L.; Fagan, M. B. (eds.) Individuation across Experimental and Theoretical Sciences, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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11 Simons, P., (1987), Parts. A Study in Ontology, Oxford: Clarendon.

12 Wimsatt, W. C., (2007), Re-engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings. Piecewise Approximations to Reality, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

13 Winther, R. G., (2006), “Parts and Theories in Compositional Biology”, Biology and Philosophy 21: 471-199.


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