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Philosophical Foundations for Systems Biology (completed)

The project aimed for conceptual and philosophical development produced in interaction with systems biologists.

About the Project

Systems biology is a new and expanding discipline investigating complex living systems through interdisciplinary work. It engages biologists, biophysicists, mathematicians, statisticians and computer scientists who model biological systems and conduct computer based simulations combined with large scale experimental testing.

The new discipline faces interesting and fundamental philosophical questions, which need investigation.

Philosophical Foundations for Systems Biology (PSBio) was a Nordic philosophy of science research project. It addressed the following topics.

  • Systems and Parts: we investigated how to understand the ontology of systems, how the concept of gene is understood in the new discipline, and how properties of systems, parts and wholes are to be understood.
  • Levels and Causes: we explored the relation between scientific levels, reduction, and causation in complex biological systems.
  • Methods and Epistemological Issues: the particular use of models and simulations in systems biology was investigated.


PSBio resulted in philosophical foundations that will influence the future direction and content of systems biology as well as directions in philosophy of science.

The project was carried out in close collaboration with national, Nordic and international research communities.


NOS-HS, The joint committee for Nordic research councils in the humanities and social sciences.



  • Parkkinen, V.-P., 2014. "Developmental Explanation". Forthcoming in Galavotti, M.C., D. Dieks, J. Gonzalez, S. Hartmann, T. Uebel and M. Weber (eds), New Directions in the Philosophy of Science. Series: The Philosophy of Science in a European Perspective. Springer.
  • Parkkinen, V.-P., 2014. Understanding biological explanation and its practical relevance – Essays on interventionist epistemology of the life sciences. PhD thesis. Forthcoming in Acta Humaniora.


  • Strand, A. and Parkkinen, V.-P., 2013. Causal knowledge in evidence-based medicine. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice, doi: 10.111/jep.12093
  • Strand, A. and Oftedal G., 2013. "Causation and Counterfactual Dependence in Robust Biological Systems". In: Andersen, H., D. Dieks, W.J. Gonzalez, T. Uebel and G. Wheeler (eds), New Challenges to Philosophy of  Science. Series: The Philosophy of Science in a European Perspective. Springer.
  • Oftedal. G. and Parkkinen, V.-P., 2013. "Synthetic Biology and Genetic Causation". Studies in the History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44: 208-216.


  • Oftedal, G. 2010. Peter Godfrey-Smith: "Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection". International Studies in the Philosophy of Science 24: 333-336.


  • Strand, A. and Oftedal G. 2009. "Functionally Stability and Systems Level Causation", Philosophy of Science 76: 809-820.
Published Aug. 24, 2020 10:07 AM - Last modified Feb. 5, 2021 2:24 PM