Areas of specialization: Philosophy of Biology; Philosophy of Science; Philosophy of Nature (esp. Metaphysics of Science); Research Ethics.
Areas of competence: Bioethics (esp. Environmental Ethics, Conservation); Philosophy of Social Science; Philosophy of Technology; Philosophy of Science in Science Education.
Research keyword clusters (six primary areas of work with relevant keywords):
- The philosophy of classification: natural kinds – artifact kinds – species concepts – gene concepts – phylogenetics – systematic biology.
- Evolutionary theory: generalized darwinism – selection explanations in non-biological sciences – evolutionary psychology – the biological basis of human nature and behavior.
- Socially engaged philosophy of science: explication of core concepts in evolution and systematics for science education – exploring how results from work in philosophy of science can be rendered useful in education and public debate – conceptual issues in biodiversity and nature conservation – ELSI in genetics, genomics, gene editing and xenotransplantation.
- Modes of explanation in the special sciences: law-based explanations in biology – the explanatory force of historical explanations – the explanatory force of functional explanations.
- Research ethics: philosophy of science as a basis for research ethics – responsibility of scientists – good scientific practice in the sciences and the humanities.
- Metaphilosophy: exploring the connection between philosophy of biology & theoretical biology.
- The Ontological Status of Genome Edited Organisms (GEOs): Research carried out in the context of the project Ethical, Legal and Socio-Economic Aspects of Genome Editing in Agriculture (ELSA-GEA), a cooperative research project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). I am one of two PI’s in subproject 4, Legal Issues of Genome Editing in Plants and Animals (2016- 2019). As part of this subproject together with a PhD student (Martin Wasmer) I am examining the ontology of Genome Editing (GE) and Genetic Modification (GM) technologies and their product organisms. The aim is to apply the various available accounts of what makes things into members of their kinds to the question whether Genome Edited Organisms (GEOs) should be considered (1) a subcategory or subkind of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), such that they would fall under the same legislation, (2) a subcategory or kind of the of conventional organisms, or (3) as constituting a category or kind sui generis that has to be subject to its own specific regulation. A project description can be downloaded here.
- Biology of Xenogeneic Cell, Tissue and Organ Transplantation – From Bench to Bedside, Transregional Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) 127, funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), see here. I'm participating in work package 2, Taxonomy of Normative Entities in Xenotransplantation (2016-present), which is a part of project area Z1, Ethical, Legal, Societal Issues. The aim is to develop an ontology of entities that play a central role in xenotransplantation with respect to regulatory issues and to see how existing classifications can be improved. Questions are, among others: What are the kinds of entities that regulation is supposed to apply to? Do the same kinds of entities, with the same membership conditions, feature in regulatory, ethical, biological and medical contexts?If not, how can these be mapped onto each other?
- Theoretical Underpinnings of Molecular Biology (ThUMB):Research project at the University of Rijeka (Croatia), funded by the Croatian Science foundation (2018-2022). The project examines the ways in which current developments in molecular biology affect how some key concepts in evolutionary biology (including the concepts of natural selection, of biological function, and of the gene) are understood. As project member I'm working on the ontological status of genes.
- Integrating Ethics and Epistemology of Scientific Research, Research Training Group (GRK) 2073, funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), see here. I am Co-PI in this project (2015-present).
- Scientific Kinds: Non-formalized research cooperation with Marc Ereshefsky (Philosophy, University of Calgary) on the philosophical theory of natural kinds.
- Species as Natural Entities, Instrumental Units, and Ranked Taxa: A Field Guide to the Controversies Over the Concept of Species: Non-formalized research cooperation with Werner Kunz (Biology, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf)
- The Metaphysics of Biological Individuals: Non-formalized research cooperation with Marie I. Kaiser (Philosophy, Bielefeld University) and Christian Sachse (Philosophy, University of Lausanne).
- Which Biodiversity Definition for Biodiversity Conservation? (BIODECON): I'm an external consultant in this research project, which is funded by the Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) at the Centre for Philosophy of Science (CFCUL), University of Lisbon (see here).
My principal area of work is the Philosophy of the Life Sciences, conceived broadly (see below) and with a strong emphasis on theoretical and conceptual questions. I also have pronounced research (as well as teaching) interests in, inter alia, general Philosophy of Science (e.g., theories of explanation, laws of nature, scientific methodology, the nature of science), Metaphysics of Science (for example the metaphysics of kinds and classification, the nature of individuals and systems), Research Ethics (esp. the responsibilities of scientists as part of the scientific ethos), Metaphilosophy (e.g., possible contributions of philosophical work to theoretical advancements in science; the possible aims of philosophy of science), the Philosophy of Technology (classification of artifactual entities; the epistemology of technology), the Philosophy of Social Science (social ontology; the use of selection explanations in social science; the meaning of human biology for social issues), British Empiricism, and in using Philosophy of Science to improve science communication and education.
In my research I try to realize a broad and interdisciplinary conception of what philosophy of science could and should be. I conceive of the Philosophy of the Life Sciences as encompassing what is traditionally subsumed under the name of ‘Philosophy of Biology’, as well as significant parts of Bioethics, Philosophy of Nature (Metaphysics of the Life Sciences), and closely related areas. This conception includes the view that the philosophy of a particular special science (such as the Philosophy of Biology) is to some extent continuous with the theoretical part of that special science (in this case, Theoretical Biology). The difference between philosophical and theoretical work to me seems much more a matter of where emphasis is placed, which questions are asked, and how these questions are approached than of these enterprises having fundamentally different "natures" (whatever the nature of a discipline might consist in anyway) and therefore being clearly distinct academic enterprises. The philosophy of a particular science and theoretical work in that science, then, are probably best seen as two ends of a continuum with much of the interesting and important work taking place in the intermediate zone, and done by scientifically oriented philosophers, philosophically minded scientists, or both in collaboration. Accordingly, I strive to publish my work not only in journals in the areas of Philosophy / Philosophy of Science proper, but also in scientific journals.
Theoretical biology as it has existed in the Netherlands since the 1920s-1930s has always encompassed both mathematical biology and philosophy of biology: "Holland has a small subdiscipline which seems virtually unique to that country. So-called theoretical biology runs the gamut from hard-line mathematical modeling to serious study of the philosophical foundations of biology" (Michael Ruse, Philosophy of Biology Today, State University of New York Press, 1988: 86). As a consequence, philosophers of biology in the Netherlands have traditionally been located within biology institutes rather than philosophy departments, allowing them to be fully part of both the philosophy of science and the biology communities, and to do philosophy in close proximity to biological practice. But institutes and departments are more a matter of organizational needs than of content anyway. In this respect, even though I am not a Popperian I do agree with Popper that "disciplines are distinguished partly for historical reasons and reasons of administrative convenience (such as the organisation of teaching and of appointments)" (Karl Popper, 'The nature of philosophical problems and their roots in science', British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 3 (1952): 125). The journal of which I have been Associate Editor for many years, Acta Biotheoretica, continues the Dutch tradition of merging theory and philosophy by publishing work in the mathematical and philosophical foundations of the life sciences. Within Dutch universities, however, the tradition has all but perished due to financial cutbacks.