Aspects of reductive explanation in biological science: Intrinsicality, fundamentality, and temporality

Andreas Hüttemann, Alan C. Love

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


The inapplicability of variations on theory reduction in the context of genetics and their irrelevance to ongoing research has led to an anti-reductionist consensus in philosophy of biology. One response to this situation is to focus on forms of reductive explanation that better correspond to actual scientific reasoning (e.g. part-whole relations). Working from this perspective, we explore three different aspects (intrinsicality, fundamentality, and temporality) that arise from distinct facets of reductive explanation: composition and causation. Concentrating on these aspects generates new forms of reductive explanation and conditions for their success or failure in biology and other sciences. This analysis is illustrated using the case of protein folding in molecular biology, which demonstrates its applicability and relevance, as well as illuminating the complexity of reductive reasoning in a specific biological context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)519-549
Number of pages31
JournalBritish Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2011

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Order of authorship is alphabetical; both authors contributed equally to this paper. We are grateful to the comments and feedback we have received from many individuals (Ingo Brigandt, Tom Doyle, Susan Hawthorne, Marie Kaiser, Peter McLaughlin, Ken Schaffner, Ken Waters, Marcel Weber, and four anonymous referees) and at various venues (Department of Philosophy, St. Cloud State University; Seminar on ‘Reductionism in Biology’ at the University of Minnesota; Department of Philosophy, University of Münster; Seminar on ‘Philosophy of Biology’ at the University of Münster; ‘Emergence and Reduction in the Sciences’ [Second Pittsburgh-Paris Workshop], Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh; Center for Philosophy and Ethics of Science, University of Hannover; Minnesota Center for Philosophy of Science, Biology Interest Group at the University of Minnesota; Workshop on ‘Explanation, Confirmation and Prediction in Biology and Medicine’ at the University of Konstanz). We also want to express our appreciation for support from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the American Philosophical Society to pursue this collaboration, which grew out of our mutual participation in the Second German-American Frontiers of Humanities Symposium, Hamburg,

Funding Information:
Germany, October 2005. Funded by an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation CONNECT Fellowship (to A.H. and to A.C.L.) and the University of Minnesota McKnight Land-Grant Professorship (to A.C.L.).


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