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  • Dispositions in the Life Sciences

    This project addresses metaphysical questions about dispositions by analyzing how dispositions are studied in the biological sciences.

    Photo by Marie Kaiser

Project overview


The workshop will take place at Bielefeld University. All participants have to be vaccinated, recovered, or tested. Registration:

The project

The research project “Complex Biological Dispositions: A Case Study in the Metaphysics of Biological Practice” (2020-2023) is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) . It is a subproject in the research group “Inductive Metaphysics” (FOR 2495). The Principal Investigator of this project is Prof. Dr. Marie I. Kaiser.

This project asks what biological dispositions are, how they are individuated, what makes them complex, whether they are extrinsic and come in degrees, and how they relate to their causal basis and to underlying biological mechanisms. We address these metaphysical questions by analyzing four paradigmatic examples of dispositions studied in the biological sciences: the pluripotency of stem cells, the boldness of animals, the evolvability of populations, and the sustainability of human actions or development. The project is a study within Inductive Metaphysics, specifically in “metaphysics of biological practice” (Kaiser 2018, 29). We develop metaphysical claims about biological dispositions by using inductive methods that invoke various kinds of empirical information from and about biological practice. The goal of this project is to develop a practice-oriented metaphysical account of biological dispositions that makes novel contributions to the philosophy of biology and that yields interesting consequences for debates about dispositions within the metaphysics of science.

Staff and subprojects

Dr. María Ferreira Ruiz

María’s subproject focuses on dispositions in evolutionary biology and ecology. She examines two alleged dispositional concepts related to the generation of variation: evolvability and phenotypic plasticity. These cases raise crucial issues, such as whether the environment can be characterized as a trigger of the disposition, whether biological dispositions are extrinsic or intrinsic, and what the nature of their causal bases is. She puts these findings to work in a more general account of biological dispositions.

Dr. Fabian Hundertmark

Fabian’s subproject aims to give a general metaphysical account of abilities and dispositions in the mind sciences.  He analyzes three paradigmatic cases of dispositions: the animal personality trait "boldness", the mental disorder "specific phobia", and the mental ability "psychological resilience". He then generalizes his findings to work out the consequences of the case studies for our general view on dispositions and to explicate the distinguishing features of dispositions in the mind sciences.

Dr. Javier Suárez Díaz

Javier’s subproject looks at how the dispositions of stem cells and of the microbiome can be metaphysically characterized. He looks at scientific practice to understand how biologists attribute dispositions to stem cells and to the microbiome. The aim of this part of the subproject is to grasp the conditions of instantiation of these biological dispositions. In a second step, his goal is to derive general consequences for the metaphysical debate about dispositions.

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