A Process Ontology for Contemporary Biology
ERC Advanced Investigator Award, Grant Agreement #324186
This project has three central aims. The first is to rethink central issues in the philosophy of biology by elaborating an ontology for biology that takes full account of the processual nature of living systems. Starting with a careful survey of existing positions, especially Whitehead and the American Pragmatists, the goal will be to develop a concept of process adequate for addressing the multiple levels of interacting processes at different time scales characteristic of living systems. The concept of a stable biological thing will be analysed as a stabilised process relative to an appropriate time scale, and this conception should make possible a better understanding of familiar biological pluralisms (about genes, organisms, species, etc…) in terms of different ways in which distinct scientific practices intersect with biological processes.
Second, the concept of process developed will be used to rethink some highly topical issues in contemporary philosophy of biology (and philosophy of science generally). The project will explore the potential of a processual perspective to provide a critique of widely discussed recent versions of mechanism. The latter have been deployed to offer accounts of explanation and, eventually, causation. Such accounts will be assessed for the possibility of revision in the light of modifications suggested by a processual perspective. The project will explore generally the relevance of this perspective to influential contemporary accounts of causation and explanation.
Finally the project will apply the preceding ideas to several highly active and important areas of contemporary biology: systems biology, synthetic biology, and microbiology. These investigations, in fact, will be carried on in parallel with the more general philosophical enquiries, with the idea that the two will be mutually informative: the philosophical analyses will not only be applied to scientific concepts, but will also themselves be evaluated for their relevance to real cutting edge biology. This evaluation will be guided by interaction with scientific practitioners and an expert Advisory Board, as well as text-based study. The project aims to be of direct relevance to both philosophy and science.
Some preliminary attempts to address some of these issues can be found in J. Dupré, Processes of Life: Essays in the Philosophy of Biology, OUP 2012, especially parts 2 and 3.
The project will employ three postdoctoral research fellows. The first, currently recruiting, is a four year Associate Research Fellowship. The appointee will work closely with the PI on all aspects of the project.
To apply, please complete an application form, your CV and covering letter with the contact details of three referees to Hanan Price (H.Price@exeter.ac.uk) quoting the reference number P45222 in any correspondence.
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Two further posts will be advertised during the academic year 2013-14. These will be to work specifically on the application of the project themes to (i) systems and synthetic biology, and (ii) microbiology. Anyone interested in any of these posts is welcome to contact the PI at email@example.com.