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Civilization and the Culture of ScienceScience and the Shaping of Modernity, 1795-1935$
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Stephen Gaukroger

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780198849070

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: February 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198849070.001.0001

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The Autonomy of the Life Sciences

The Autonomy of the Life Sciences

(p.155) 6 The Autonomy of the Life Sciences
Civilization and the Culture of Science

Stephen Gaukroger

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the development of physiology and the reductionist aspirations of nineteenth-century physiology. It is shown that the scientific standing of physiology is not dependent on the extent to which it can be reduced to the physical and material sciences, and that the distinctiveness of the life sciences, what marks them out as autonomous with respect to the physical and material sciences, does not depend on their ability to secure the existence of some non-physical force which distinctively shapes and guides biological processes. A central argument is that the notion of emergent properties, rather than being an alternative to reductionism, is actually designed to save it, and that, from an explanatory point of view, it is empty. At the same time, the attempt to formulate questions of emergent properties in terms of ontology is a criticized as a way of thinking about scientific explanation.

Keywords:   history of the life sciences, emergent properties, history of physiology, ontology, vitalism

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