History and Philosophy of Biology
Interview with Jean Gayon, conducted by Anna Maria Dieli
Keywords:August Comte, Epistemology, Philosophy of biology, Nature, William Whewell
Literally speaking, “Philosophy of biology” is a rather old expression. William Whewell coined it in 1840, at the very time he introduced the expression “philosophy of science”. Whewell was fond of creating neologisms, like August Comte. The expression “philosophy of science” had two justifications : firstly, this phrase expressed the idea that “science” remained cognitively coherent enough to justify a critical enquiry into its methodological unity and its foundation ; secondly, the phrase “philosophy of science” was required in order to distinguish a properly “philosophical” enquiry from a “historical” approach to science. Clearly, Whewell was not willing to confuse the genres of history and philosophy as Auguste Comte had done. Furthermore, the main philosophical problem raised by biology is its dual nature : biology is both nomological and a historical science. Modern philosophers of biology are generally unaware of the story of the origins of the expression “philosophy of biology”, but Whewell’s dual theoretical nature of biology is still a major concern for modern “philosophy of biology”.