The philosophy of biological information

Authored by: Barton Moffatt

The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Information

Print publication date:  June  2016
Online publication date:  June  2016

Print ISBN: 9781138796935
eBook ISBN: 9781315757544
Adobe ISBN: 9781317633495

10.4324/9781315757544.ch23

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Abstract

Information talk is everywhere in the biological sciences. Use of the term information and related concepts like code, program and signal are put to a wide range of uses in the scientific description of natural phenomena. Philosophers of biology are keen to understand what biologists mean by information and related concepts, what work these concepts do, and how they are interrelated. This chapter focuses on a few select arguments, briefly setting out some of the best known philosophical arguments on this topic. Hopefully this will give the reader both a taste of the specific argumentation employed by philosophers of biology and some exposure to the type of interests that motivate their projects. The chapter begins by briefly describing some of the typical ways informational concepts are used in biology. There follows a detailed look at Griffiths’ Parity argument and then a discussion of two semantic accounts of information developed by John Maynard Smith and Eva Jablonka. Next, the chapter reviews Sarkar’s argument about the epistemic role played by information and Godfrey-Smith’s argument exploring the connections between informational concepts. The chapter ends with a discussion of some other noteworthy work in the area and a brief look at where the field is headed.

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