Do We Need a 'Theory' of Development?

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Brigandt, Ingo
preprint description
Edited by Alessandro Minelli and Thomas Pradeu, Towards a Theory of Development gathers essays by biologists and philosophers, which display a diversity of theoretical perspectives. The discussions not only cover the state of art, but broaden our vision of what development includes and provide pointers for future research. Interestingly, all contributors agree that explanations should not just be gene-centered, and virtually none use design and other engineering metaphors to articulate principles of cellular and organismal organization. I comment in particular on the issue of how to construe the notion of a ‘theory’ and whether developmental biology has or should aspire to have theories, which four of the contributions discuss in detail while taking opposing positions. Beyond construing a theory in terms of its empirical content (established knowledge about biological phenomena), my aim is to shift the focus toward the role that theories have for guiding future scientific theorizing and practice. Such a conception of ‘theory’ is particularly important in the context of development, because arriving at a theoretical framework providing guidance for the discipline of developmental biology as a whole is more plausible than a unified representation of development across all taxa.