Reducing Biology

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This dissertation proposes a new working model of reductionism for biology and a new concept of the gene based on the new reduction model. My project aims to help biologists and philosophers understand what reductionism in biology really is, or, should be.

Historical debates about reductionism testify us that the classical reduction model, i.e., Ernest Nagel's bridge-law model, offers us neither an appropriate ontological reductionism nor a reductive explanation about biological phenomena. Casting doubts on the received view of the layered hierarchical model of ontology, I suggest that many interesting biological properties be construed as second-order functional properties and their first-order realizers. Providing for reduction finely-analyzed biological properties, I offer a new model for reductionism in biology - localized functional reductionism - which evolved from Jaegwon Kim's view of reductionism presented for the problems of mental causation.

My localized functional reductionism shows that a localized functional property is reduced to its base/structural property. I emphasize that researchers in biology do not deal with abstract general properties but always localized, structure-specific biological properties. A localized functional property and the structure-specific biological property as its base property are what we are interested in and this is what makes biological properties appropriate for research and meaningful for philosophical discussion. The localized functional reduction model, which is actually a case of token reduction model, integrates the fine-grained ontological hierarchies of both macro/micro-levels and higher/lower-orders, and it also synthesizes functional reductionism and token identity thesis. In my localized functional reductionism, functional biological properties are not eliminated but they exist with their own causal powers and true explanatory powers.

I also argue that the gene, construed as a second-order functional property, must be understood as gene expression network-specific. The gene, when it is realized on a given occasion, is reduced to, and is identical with, one of its genomic realizers on the given occasion, that is, the gene expression network. A new dynamic approach to the concept of the gene as the gene expression network vindicates reductionism.






Yu, Sun Kyeong (2008). Reducing Biology. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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