Issues When Applying Structuralism to Biology


*Presented at the Western Canadian Philosophical Association Conference 2019 at the University of Lethbridge in Lethbridge, Alberta.* This paper discusses some issues that arise when applying structural realism to biology. I begin by reviewing Katherine Brading’s version of structural realism with a hierarchy with proliferation of models.1 I then attempt to apply Brading’s structural realism to a biological example. This biological example suggests an issue with the use of shared structure. In response, I suggest the use of relevant relations instead of shared structure. I then discuss Steven French’s use of eliminativist ontic structural realism in biology. Additionally, I consider John Dupré and Maureen A. O’Malley’s discussion of metagenomics and claim that biological entities are better described as self-sustaining biological processes.2 These metagenomic insights suggest an eliminativist view is preferable in biology. I conclude with an attempt to combine Brading’s and French’s approaches into an eliminativist relevant relationalism that retains the structuralist flavor and is applicable to the fluid, constantly changing entities found in biology. 1. Katherine Brading, “Structuralist Approaches to Physics: Objects, Models and Modality,” chap. 3 in Scientific Structuralism, ed. Alisa Bokulich and Peter Bokulich, vol. 281, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science (Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands, 2011), 43–65, isbn: 9789048195978, doi:10.1007/978-90-481-9597-8_3. 2. John Dupré and Maureen A. O’Malley, “Metagenomics and biological ontology,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 38 (2007): 84

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Angella Yamamoto
University of Waterloo


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