Potentiality in Biology

In K. Engelhardt & M. Quante (eds.), Handbook of Potentiality. Dordrecht: Springer. pp. 401-428 (2018)
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Abstract
We take the potentialities that are studied in the biological sciences (e.g., totipotency) to be an important subtype of biological dispositions. The goal of this paper is twofold: first, we want to provide a detailed understanding of what biological dispositions are. We claim that two features are essential for dispositions in biology: the importance of the manifestation process and the diversity of conditions that need to be satisfied for the disposition to be manifest. Second, we demonstrate that the concept of a disposition (or potentiality) is a very useful tool for the analysis of the explanatory practice in the biological sciences. On the one hand it allows an in-depth analysis of the nature and diversity of the conditions under which biological systems display specific behaviors. On the other hand the concept of a disposition may serve a unificatory role in the philosophy of the natural sciences since it captures not only the explanatory practice of biology, but of all natural sciences. Towards the end we will briefly come back to the notion of a potentiality in biology.
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