Proceedings of the XXII World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 43, 2008

Philosophy of Natural Sciences

Sun Kyeong Yu
Pages 215-223

Who’s Afraid of Gory Details?

Philip Kitcher’s ‘gory detail’ argument aims to prove that molecular biology does not always have an explanatory primacy over higher-level functional biology. Explanations of higher-level biological discipline – functional biology – are completely adequate for explaining higher-level biological phenomena, and none of the gory molecular details of biological processes improve our understanding of these biological facts. I dispute Kitcher’s arguments by pointing out three problems embedded in his accounts. First, his view of molecular biology does not aptly reflect the nature of molecular biology that continuously provides richer and richer causal explanations about biological phenomena as well as information on their molecular level. Second, having this feature, molecular biology can hardly be deemed explanatorily irrelevant in explaining higher-level biological facts. Nor are explanations of molecular biology unexplainable. Third, functional biology fails to offer accurate and complete explanations about biological phenomena that are caused by the changes occurring at the molecular level. Functional biology does not remain stable in its ability to provide reliable explanations and thus loses its explanatory primacy to molecular biology. After all, molecular biology generates precise explanations of biological phenomena with reliable predictive power.