For the first meeting of the Biological Interest Group this summer semester, we were very pleased to have Antonios Basoukos discussing a working paper, questioning the realism/anti-realism of some gene concepts given particular points of empirical evidence. He intends to submit a longer version of this paper to Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences. In his paper, Antonios uses Ian Hacking’s (1983) entity realism to show that Lenny Moss’ (2003, 2008) category of Gene-P is not real, unless it refers to a DNA sequence, which Moss has himself suggested in passing.
Antonios explained Moss’ distinction between a preformation concept of the gene (Gene-P) and a developmental concept of the gene (i.e. Gene-D). Genes-P refers to phenotypes; a Gene-P does not necessarily correspond to an actual DNA sequence. However, an actual DNA sequence is a Gene-D, but the concept of genes can be both Genes-P and Genes-D. That being said, the author explains, it is organisms that have phenotypes; when we speak about phenotypes the real entities are whole organisms. However, when we speak about intermediate phenotypes (mRNAs, metabolites), the real entities are biomolecules interacting. It is the material nature of DNA sequences and their being acted upon by the cellular apparatus makes genes-construed-as-DNA-sequences epistemic things. The explanatory phrase of ‘being acted upon’, instead of ‘interaction’ was a crucial epistemic distinction for the author.
In his paper, Antonios projects the contemporary conceptions of the gene identified by P. Griffiths and K. Stotz (cf. Stotz, 2006; Griffiths & Stotz, 2006, 2013; Griffiths, 2017; Stotz & Griffiths, 2017) onto Lenny Moss’ epistemic categories of Gene-D and Gene-P. His goal was to show that Genes-P are not epistemic things, but that they can be considered as epistemic things insofar as they are Genes-D. One consequence of this conclusion is that genes have to be conceived in the broader context in which they are made to operate by the cell apparatus.
Griffiths, P.E., “Genetic, Epigenetic and Exogenetic Information in Development and Evolution”, Interface Focus, 7: 2016015 (2017) 1-8.
Griffiths, P.E., K. Stotz, “Genes in the Postgenomic Era”, Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics, 27 (2006) 499-521.
Griffiths, P.E., K. Stotz, Genetics and Philosophy: An Introduction, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013)
Hacking, I., Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983)
Moss, L., What Genes Can’t Do, (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2003)
Moss, L., “The Meanings of the Gene and the Future of the Phenotype”, Genomics, Society and Policy, 4 (2008) 38-54
Stotz, K., “Molecular Epigenesis: Distributed Specificity as a Break in the Central Dogma”, History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences, 28 (2006) 527-544.
Stotz K., P.E. Griffiths, “Biological Information, Causality, and Specificity: An Intimate Relationship”, From Matter to Life: Information and Causality, eds. S. I. Walker, P. C. W. Davies and G. F. R. Ellis. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), pp. 366-390.