The Biosophy Program
Anna Öhman & Svenolov Lindgren
We are dealing with Philosophy, Biology, and Education
Our intellectual plant has its roots in ancient Man and pre-Man. This plant got its first leafs in the early modern ages and will get its primary flowers in the 21th century. This plant is a symbol of Man’s relation to Nature and Life and a representation of Man’s thoughts on the living matter (Greek bios, life; sophia, wisdom).
These thoughts are Man’s philosophy on Life—Man’s BIOSOPHY.
Our studies are related to the life in the 21st century. We are living and working in a thinly populated woodland in Scandinavia. Our access to service provided by cultural centers and libraries is restricted—despite we have cars, telephones, and postal service. However, in recent time the Internet has established a new global system for communication of thoughts and ideas. It has improved our possibilities for scientific discussion and expression of ideas. This medium is rapid with immediate access worldwide for all interested. Furthermore, it is open for everybody without editorial considerations or publishers´ censorship.
Thus, our studies are mostly based on Internet communications and adopted to modern transmitters of thoughts. We present this program in our Internet home at Geocities. In this global net we are looking forward discussing the intersection of philosophy and biology—the BIOSOPHY—and its implications on education.
The Biosophy Program
The Biosophy Program is intended to circumscribe and systemize biological studies in a philosophical framework to support teaching at courses on philosophy and courses on biology. We are working in Sweden and primarily concerned with the development of our own courses. However, we are well aware that several science courses around the world have integrated the philosophy of science, and found it essential for the science education.
The biosophical thinking is defined below in five philosophical fields and discriminated from Næss’ ecosophy. The term biosophy was previously used by Zapffe (1941) in a literary context for the analysis of human social life based on philosophy of existence and biological facts. Such a narrow circumscription of biosophy is in our opinion no obstacle to widen the definition to encompass all systematic thinking on biological issues.
Biosophy is an integration of biological issues into a frame of philosophy and their applications for education. Biosophical studies are approached by methods from various branches of philosophy.
The following is a short presentation of philosophy and biology as subjects. We also take ecosophy into consideration in order to discriminate that adjacent field from biosophy.
Philosophy (Greek philos friend; sophia wisdom, insight) is typical in its way of unfinished argumentation and reasoning, as well as in its nature of being the basic of science—one could say the fundamental science before we get the division into separate disciplines such as physics, biology, and language in the 18th century.
The study of philosophy will be of a historical and reflective character with the focus on mans thinking about the universe, the earth, substance, knowledge, consciousness, language, reasoning, and moral.
There is no generally accepted definition of the subject of philosophy but the distinction can be made between theoretical and practical philosophy. In the theoretical approach following areas are of great concern: ontology/metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, and logic. In the practical approach these areas are most important: ethics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of state, and aesthetics.
Biology (Greek bios life; logos knowledge) is defined as the scientific study of life. The basic problem in theoretical biology is the impossibility to formulate general principles for life from only examples of the carbon-based life on earth. Studies on artificial life and exobiology will broaden the fields of investigation.
The wide circumscription of biology admits varied approaches, but in practice the scope is mainly restricted to the life on earth. Biology involves several other disciplines, e.g. chemistry, geology, hydrology, mathematics, meteorology, physics, and psychology. A gradual change of interest from original descriptions of structures into multidisciplinary studies of functions, principles, and processes may be recorded historically. Living organisms and their systems are studied in a range of levels of organization: the molecules of a cell represent the smaller extreme—populations, communities, and ecosystems the larger extreme.
Philosophically the structures of organisms may be looked upon in a mechanistic way by analyzing their components as reductionists do. With a holistic view, however, organisms have qualities that exceed the sum of their parts.
Ecosophy (Greek oikos home, house; sophia wisdom, insight) is also called Deep ecology. It is a branch of practically oriented philosophy which has its roots in the ecological movement and philosophical empiricism. The Norwegian philosopher Arne Næss is the front figure and thinker who coined the term already 1973 in his article The shallow and the deep, long-range ecology movements: a summary. He clearly expressed his ecosophy as a responsible commitment to the existing life, with focus on the ”quality of life” where human and non-human life on earth have equal value.
In Deep ecology for the 21st century (edited by George Sessions 1995) Arne Næss expressed the program in his article The deep ecology platform. In eight points it summarize the intrinsic value of all life on earth, its richness and diversity, and the importance to preserve this—except to satisfy vital needs or, if a decrease is necessary, to prevent overpopulation. It also focuses the problem of human interference with non-human life and the need to change politics and ideology of living, which appreciates life quality and demands commitment. In his paper Three approaches to ecophilosophy Olli Tammilehto traces the ethical, ontological, and social approaches as the main lines in ecophilosophy, although they are not found in pure form.
The following is a specification in five fields of the relation between philosophy and biology, and comments on related parts of ecosophy. Ecosophy has a strong emphasis on practical, ethical philosophy that is not the main focus of our biosophy.
Ontology is a branch of metaphysics and often used as its synonym. In this area of philosophy the concern is to attain knowledge of different types of conceptions of reality and being from Ancient times to our days. Metaphysics is then understood as a general study of the most necessary characteristics that anything must have in order to count as being an entity. The philosophical investigation of the nature, constitution, and structure of reality concerns both physical and non-physical entities. The term ontology is used with a different meaning in artificial intelligence.
Ontological problems with biological relevance are related to evolution. In a prebiotic stage atoms and inorganic compounds evolved into selfreplicating structures. The living organisms evolve because of the selective pressure from environmental factors.
In ecosophy the ontology is a clearly holistic conception of reality with a monistic understanding of substance as one and unified. This entails an explicit non-anthropocentrism.
Epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge, and the possibilities of justification. This field is also called theory of knowledge.
One central issue of biological significance in the field of epistemology is to identify those organs involved in making up the human consciousness and to reveal their precise functions.
In ecosophy the position is empiristic, but the concern with the epistemological area of philosophy is not of central interest.
Philosophy of language is the study of natural language and its workings, particularly of linguistic meaning, and the use of language. Questions of meaning and reference, truth and validity are focused.
Of biological importance are ethological and ecological aspects of the evolution of nonverbal communication systems and also anatomical and physiological prerequisites for the evolution of organs of speech and verbal languages. There is also a relation between the use of a language and the buildup of knowledge.
In ecosophy the language branch of philosophy is of minor concern.
Theory of science—also called philosophy of science—is centered on a critical examination of the sciences, their methods, and their results. Concepts of the credibility and structure of hypotheses and the foundations of physical theories will be of central concern.
Theory of science is the philosophical frame for the evaluation of methods for biological research, and for the interpretation and critical discussion of biological matters.
In ecosophy the theory of science is of minor concern.
Ethics is the philosophical study of morality—the general study of right action and moral responsibility. Its principal substantive questions are which ends we ought to choose and pursue, and which moral principles should govern our choices and pursuits.
The value of biological knowledge for individuals, groups, societies, and nations together with the question of the right to use this knowledge in various situations are central ethical issues in biosophy.
The complexity of the biological aspects of ethics are demonstrated by the range of problems, e.g. the distinction between life and dead, moral aspects on abortion, and the obligation to give and the right to refuse medical care; biodiversity and management of biotic resources; and problems of modern genetics and biotechnology, such as in vitro fertilization, cloning, and genetic discrimination by insurance companies and employers.
The ecosophical thinking is of great concern in this area of philosophy and therefore called Deep ecology. Theories of what is good or right demands actions and the focus is put on the quality of life. Life is here understood as the unity of all nature, where humans have no priority, just responsibility to safeguard it. Life on earth—understood as both human and non-human life—has an intrinsic value and the present human interference with the non-human world is regarded as excessive, e.g. particular forms of modern technology which disrupts natural cycles more than necessary.
Anna Öhman, Licentiate of Arts
Anna is a scholar of Philosophy and Literature from Oslo University. Her thesis in Literature (1991) is a hermeneutic study of works by the Swedish writer Birgitta Trotzig. Anna was teaching Philosophy and Theory of Knowledge.
Svenolov Lindgren, Ph.D. Svenolov is an Associate Professor of Historical Biology from Stockholm University. He was teaching Biology and General Science.
Associate: Nelly Lindgren, Ph.D. Nelly is an Associate Professor of Linguistics and Language History from Stockholm University.
Tom Gruber: What is an ontology?
Arne Næss: A deep ecology eight point platform formulated by Arne Naess and George Sessions.
Olli Tammilehto: Three approaches to eco-philosophy.
Peter Wessel Zapffe; from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Biosophy; from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Issued originally on http://www.geocities.com, 23 January 1998.