The Reduction of Classical Experimental Embryology to Molecular Developmental Biology: A Tale of Three Sciences

In William Bausman, Janella Baxter & Oliver Lean (eds.), From Biological Practice to Scientific Metaphysics. Minnesota Studies in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 23. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (forthcoming)
  Copy   BIBTEX


I attempt to characterize the relationship of classical experimental embryology (CEE) and molecular developmental biology and compare it to the much-discussed case of classical genetics. These sciences are treated here as discovery practices rather than as definitive forms of knowledge. I first show that CEE had some causal knowledge and hence was able to answer specific why?-questions. A paradigm was provided by the case of eye induction, perhaps CEE’s greatest success. The case of the famous Spemann-Mangold organizer is more difficult. I argue that before the advent of molecular biology, knowledge of its causal role in development was very limited. As a result, there was no functional definition of the concept of organizer. I argue that, like the classical gene concept, it is best viewed as an operational concept. This means that an account of reduction such as Kim’s functional reduction, which is still a mainstay in scientific metaphysics, cannot work in these cases. Nonetheless, again like in the classical gene case, the operational concepts of CEE played an important heuristic role in the discovery of molecules involved in morphogenesis and cell differentiation. This was made possible by what I call inter-level investigative practices. These are practices that combine experimental manipulations targeting two (or more) different levels. I conclude that the two sciences are more closely related via their experimental practices than by any inter-level explanatory relations.

Author's Profile

Marcel Weber
University of Geneva


Added to PP

29 (#75,470)

6 months
29 (#45,849)

Historical graph of downloads since first upload
This graph includes both downloads from PhilArchive and clicks on external links on PhilPapers.
How can I increase my downloads?