Integrative Biophilosophy – Epistemology of the Life Sciences

Forms of Practice, Forms of Knowledge – Method, Notation and the Dynamics of Perspectives in the Life Sciences

PI: Robert Meunier

Research Fellow: tba

News: open position, research assistant

The project is funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG).
For further information click here.  

Scientific practice has become a central theme in science studies. This project aims at a new model of scientific research processes that combines cognitive, semiotic and social aspects of scientific practice. The model will be used to analyse various research programmes in the life sciences and to describe the commonalities and differences between them. In this way it explicates the notion of a plurality of perspectives on biological phenomena. Furthermore, it enables explanations of dynamic relations - such as diversification, controversy, collaboration or integration - between research programmes.

The model will specify the role of project knowledge in scientific practice—that is, knowledge about how to design and carry out a research project, i.e. about how to gain empirical knowledge. There are four kinds of project knowledge, which can be addressed in terms of cognitive schemata: 1) knowledge about possible goals of research project, i.e. about forms knowledge can take (goal schemata); 2) knowledge about how to generate knowledge of a given form (methodological schemata); 3) knowledge about how to organise such work in terms of the material infrastructure, social rules and institutions (organisational schemata); 4) knowledge about notational formats that are available to represent knowledge of a given form (notational schemata). Knowledge schemata 2) - 4) can be addressed as implementation knowledge. The model also maps the relation of epistemic knowledge to three kinds of activities involved in knowledge generation (epistemic practice): 1) research activities (e.g. observation, experimentation, modelling); 2) activities of establishing and navigating infrastructures and institutions; 3) activities of crafting representations of facts. Such activities result in constellations of people, organisms, research materials and a variety of artefacts, in and through which scientific facts become delineated and represented. In the framework of the model an integrated account of the role of action and representation in generating knowledge, i.e. scientific facts and the concepts that describe them.

This account differs from other accounts of practice in science that emphasize diversity and focus on specific aspects of research processes. It advances the field by complementing the specialization in philosophy of science in practice entailed by such focus with an integrative view. The goal is not to revive the idea of unity in science, but, to the contrary, to identify several shared dimensions (in terms of project knowledge and epistemic practice) along which research programmes differ. This enables a comparison of research programmes and the analysis of dynamic relations between them.

One strand of the proposed project is dedicated to developing the model in detail. A second research strand consists of detailed case studies from developmental biology, evolutionary biology and ecology in the long 20th century. While the case studies provide empirical input and a testing ground for developing the model, they also constitute important fields of investigation that will benefit from the analytic framework provided by the model.

Project-relevant Publications

  • Gross, F., Kranke, N., & Meunier, R. (forthc.) Pluralization through Epistemic Competition: Scientific Change in Times of Data-Intensive Biology. History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences.
  • Meunier, R. (in press). Project knowledge and its resituation in the design of research projects: Seymour Benzer’s behavioral genetics, 1965-1974. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science.

For an updated and complete list of publictaions, see:

Project Conferences

Representing scientific results: Forms of knowledge, 18.-19. November, 2016, Universität Kassel (Organisation: Nina Kranke & Robert Meunier), see: