Aarhus University Seal

PhD Defence, Friday 28 March 2014, Sara Marie Ehrenreich Green

Design Principles in Biology – A Philosophical Analysis

Info about event


Friday 28 March 2014,  at 13:00 - 16:00



To what extent is it productive to investigate living systems as if they were designed? Why do some biologists attempt to identify general and rather abstract principles of biological organization? These are among the questions addressed in Sara M. E. Green’s PhD project. During her studies, Sara M. E. Green has investigated the philosophical implications of research strategies within systems biology, a new interdisciplinary field where researchers draw on mathematical modelling of processes in living systems. The PhD project is a practice-oriented analysis of a research strategy aimed at identifying general principles of living systems. These principles are often considered analogous to design principles in engineering and raise a number of philosophically interesting questions regarding methodologies and explanatory strategies in biology.

While traditional philosophy of science has often considered physics a ‘model-discipline’, modern philosophers of biology have rejected the view that explanations in biology could or should follow the same explanatory scheme that relies on scientific laws. This deflationary view of explanations is motivated by the complexity, variation and contingency of living systems. These features tend to make biological explanations less general – but for that matter not less scientific. Yet, systems biologists have in recent years intensified the search for general principles and law-like regularities. This development calls for an analysis of whether (and how) a more abstract approach to living systems can be a fruitful strategy in biology, and whether this strategy conflicts with the aim of providing detailed explanations of biological mechanisms.

The PhD studies were completed at the Centre for Science Studies, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Aarhus University, and during research visits at Egenis, the Centre for the Study for the Life Sciences, University of Exeter, UK, and Department of Philosophy, University of Sydney.

Time: Friday 28 March 2014, at 13
Place: AIAS Auditorium, Building 1632, room 201

Title of dissertation: Systems Biology and the Quest for General Principles. A philosophical analysis of methodological strategies in systems biology
Contact information: Sara Marie Ehrenreich Green, e-mail: sarag@ivs.au.dk, 51331702

Members of the assessment committee
Professor Robert C. Richardson, Department of Philosophy, University of Cincinnati, USA
Professor and Research fellow Tarja Knuuttila, Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland and Department of Philosophy, University of South Carolina, USA.
Associate professor Henrik Kragh Sørensen (chair), Centre for Science Studies, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Aarhus University

Main supervisor: Professor Hanne Andersen, Centre for Science Studies, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Aarhus University
Co-supervisor: Senior lecturer Sabina Leonelli, Egenis, the Centre for the Study of Life Sciences, Department of Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology, University of Exeter, UK.

Language: The PhD dissertation will be defended in English.

The defense is public.
The dissertation is available for reading at the Graduate School of Science and Technology/GSST, Ny Munkegade 120, building 1521, room 112, 8000 Aarhus C.