Workshop: “Can Biological Practice Inform Metaphysics?"

June, 2017

Philosophers of science have increasingly shifted their focus away from scientific theories to scientific practice. This workshop seeks to explore what, if anything, the explanatory and investigative strategies of the biological sciences can tell us about reality. Some philosophers draw heavily from biological practices to develop accounts of individuality, the nature of kinds, causal variables, and causal selection. We wish to investigate the relationship between biological practice and metaphysics. Does the former offer a fruitful approach to the latter? What, exactly, does it mean for a metaphysical claim to account for biological practice? Does informing metaphysics with biological practice require that we rethink common views about what counts as metaphysics, what counts as a biological practice, and what sorts of methodological approaches are appropriate? This workshop aims to make explicit methodological and conceptual commitments implicit to the work of philosophers of biology who draw from biological practices.


Thursday, June 15 th 2017

9 am-9:15 Welcome
9:15-10:15 “Inductive Metaphysics and Scientific Practice” Andreas Hüttemann (University of Cologne)
10:15-10:45 Coffee Break
10:45-11:45 “Lessons for Causal Selection from Biological Technology” Janella Baxter (University of Minnesota)
11:50-12:50 “Making Use of” Adrian Currie (University of Cambridge)
12:50-2:50 Lunch
2:50-3:50 “Process Ontology as a Paradigm for Scientifically Grounded Metaphysics?” John Dupré (University of Exeter)
3:50-4:20 Coffee Break
4:20-5:20 “A Case Study in the Metaphysics of Biological Practice: The Parts of the Human Genome” Marie Kaiser (University of Bielefeld)
5:25-6:25 “What are Holobionts? - A Case Study for Hard Questions About Biological Individuality” Derek Skillings (University of Bordeaux)
7pm Conference Dinner

Friday, June 16 th 2017

9:15-10:15 “The spiral, the circle and the microbe: heredity and biological Practice” Eva Boon (Eindhoven University)
10:15-10:45 Coffee Break
10:45-11:45 “Underlying Concept Structure” Joyce Havstad (Oakland University)
11:50-12:50 “Individuation and identity: towards a practice-based metaphysics for homology” Catherine Kendig (Michigan State University)
12:50-2:50 Lunch
2:50-3:50 “Metaphysics through Science: The Case of Kinds” Laura Franklin-Hall (New York University)
3:50-4:20 Coffee Break
4:20-5:20 “Taxa aren’t kinds, nor are they individuals: Lessons from phylogenetic practice for the metaphysics of biological classification” Thomas Reydon (Leibniz University)
5:25-6 pm Concluding Discussion


All participants are welcome, but please send a short email to to let us know you are coming.

Travel Grants

We will be able to offer a restricted number of travel grants (up to 250 Euros each). PhD students and advanced M.A. students are encouraged to apply for these grants by submitting a short letter of motivation (200 words) and a short CV. Please send the applications to


Janella Baxter (University of Minnesota)
Eva Boon (Eindhoven University)
Adrian Currie (University of Cambridge)
John Dupré (University of Exeter)
Laura Franklin-Hall (New York University)
Joyce C. Havstad (Oakland University)
Andreas Hüttemann (University of Cologne)
Marie I. Kaiser (University of Bielefeld)
Catherine Kendig (Michigan State University)
Thomas Reydon (University of Hannover)
Derek Skillings (University of Bordeaux)

Organized by
Janella Baxter (University of Minnesota) and Marie I. Kaiser (University of Bielefeld)

As a cooperation between the The John Templeton Foundation project “From Biological Practice to Scientific Metaphysics” (Grant #50191) and DFG Research Group “Causation and Explanation” (Grant #FOR 1063).

Hosted by the University of Cologne, Department of Philosophy

Funded by DFG (German Research Foundation)