Analytic and continental approaches to biology and philosophy: David hull and marjorie grene on ‘what philosophy of biology is not’

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Gaining momentum during the last third of the twentieth century, the philosophy of biology is now a distinct field with its own debates, journals, audiences, and professional societies. This professionalization came along with the forging of an intellectual identity based on the existence of disciplinary frontiers that demarcated philosophy of biology from neighboring disciplines such as philosophy of medicine, history of biology, or general philosophy of science. Here, I argue that the identity of this emerging philosophy of biology also excluded Continental traditions often called “biological philosophy” or “historical epistemology of the life sciences”. Going back to the 60s and 70s, I explore the emergence of the philosophy of biology at a time when its identity was still in flux and its analytic orientation debated. To do so, I focus primarily on the works of David Hull and Marjorie Grene, and I draw on their unpublished correspondence. Although Grene’s intellectual contribution to the philosophy of biology has been widely acknowledged, her coming from a different philosophical universe created tensions with the identity Hull and others sought to establish. Overall, this chapter raises a question about the historical conditions that make fields such as the philosophy of biology possible, and calls attention to the exclusions that permeated the philosophy of biology from its inception and what this involves in terms of the proper relation between philosophy and science, especially biology.

This content has been updated on 30 May 2023 at 13 h 07 min.