Theses Doctoral

Causation and Explanation in Molecular Developmental Biology

Nathan, Marco Jacob

The aim of this dissertation is to provide an analysis of central concepts in philosophy of science from the perspective of current molecular and developmental research. Each chapter explores the ways in which particular phenomena or discoveries in molecular biology influences our philosophical understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge. The introductory prologue draws some general connections between the various threads, which revolve around two central themes: causation and explanation. Chapter Two identifies a particular type of causal relation which is widespread across the sciences, but cannot be straightforwardly accommodated by extant accounts of causation and causal explanation. Chapter Three explores how the form of redundant causality identified in the previous chapter plays an important role in causal explanation, by making the effect stable and robust. Chapter Four offers a novel perspective on the debate over biological reductionism by distinguishing between different paradigms of molecular explanation. Chapter Five provides a philosophical analysis of the so-called "Developmental Synthesis" of evolutionary and developmental biology, and suggests a general account of scientific unification grounded in the notion of explanatory relevance. Chapter Six offers an account of dispositional properties inspired by mechanisms of gene regulation, according to which dispositions are not properties of entities, but properties that describe the behavior of abstract idealized models. Finally, Chapter Seven scrutinizes the concept of the molecular ecosystem, a metaphor frequently employed by biologists to describe cellular interactions, but seldom articulated in detail.


  • thumnail for Nathan_columbia_0054D_10934.pdf Nathan_columbia_0054D_10934.pdf application/pdf 1.23 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Kitcher, Philip
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 12, 2012