Underdetermination and Models in Biology

Petr Jedlička


Since the early 20th century underdetermination has been one of the most contentious problems in the philosophy of science. In this article I relate the underdetermination problem to models in biology and defend two main lines of argument: First, the use of models in this discipline lends strong support to the underdetermination thesis. Second, models and theories in biology are not determined strictly by the logic of representation of the studied phenomena, but also by other constraints such as research traditions, backgrounds of the scientists, aims of the research and available technology. Convincing evidence for the existence of underdetermination in biology, where models abound, comes both from the fact that for a natural phenomenon we can create a number of candidate models but also from the fact that we do not have a universal rule that would adjudicate among them. This all makes a strong case for the general validity of underdetermination thesis.


underdetermination; model building and selection; curve-fitting problem

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TEORIE VĚDY / THEORY OF SCIENCE – journal for interdisciplinary studies of science is published twice a year by the Institute of Philosophy of the Czech Academy of Sciences (Centre for Science, Technology, and Society Studies). ISSN 1210-0250 (Print) ISSN 1804-6347 (Online) MK ČR E 18677 web: http://teorievedy.flu.cas.cz /// email: teorievedy@flu.cas.cz