An Aristotelian Philosophy of Biology: Form, Function and Development


James G. Lennox

Summary: 1. Preface. 2. Aristotle’s Philosophy of Biology. 2.1. Aristotle on Diversity, Form and Activity. 2.2. Form. 2.3 Function. 2.4. Development. 3. Aristotle and a 21st century Philosophy of Biology. 4. Conclusion.

Abstract: In metaphysics and philosophy of science, a significant movement is making inroads, under the banner of ‘neo-Aristotelianism’. This movement has so far been focused primarily on the physical sciences; but given that Aristotle the natural scientist was above all a biologist, it is worth asking what a neo-Aristotelian philosophy of biology would look like? In this paper, I begin a discussion on precisely that question. One interesting result is that the fact that biology is now permeated by evolutionary ways of thinking is all but irrelevant to answering that question. Far more important is how central are concepts of organic form, function and development to biology. Given recent developments, there are reasons to think at least some areas of the biological sciences would welcome a neo-Aristotelian philosophy of biology - i.e. a critical exploration of these concepts from an Aristotelian perspective.

Keywords: Aristotle, biology, neo-Aristotelian philosophy of biology, philosophy of science.