top of page


the network on Developmental Biology at Sorbonne Université

Philosophers in the André Picard Network


Philosophy of Science and Science itself live in permanent symbiosis, sometimes without even being aware of each other



The philosophy of science has science as its object of study: it seeks in particular to account for the operation and evolution of science, the status of its results, its theoretical and practical successes, the reasons we have to trust it, and the relationship it has with common sense or with other sources of knowledge. So it goes without saying that without science there would be no philosophy of science.


The opposite is less clear. Indeed, in their daily operations, under normal circumstances, not only are scientists, by definition, providing specialized expertise, but they also feel competent to settle amongst themselves broader conceptual issues that may arise upstream or peripheral to their research programs. Philosophers of science, in turn, having learned from some misunderstandings in the past, are careful not to pose as judges or inspectors of scientific work, and know that they are generally incapable of contributing directly to science. That is why they often place themselves in the position of observers of the past, which brings them closer to the history of science, a situation which scientists approve of.


The relationship between philosophers and scientists is sometimes much more narrow and symmetrical. Two factors promote cooperation between philosophy and science: (1) Science sometimes finds itself in a situation of uncertainty: hesitating about how to formulate problems, the merits of its framework, the resources to be mobilized in order to advance or overcome a crisis. (2) Some phenomena can be addressed only by converging different disciplines. Philosophy is likely to be helpful in these kind of border situations: on the edge of different disciplines and at the intersection of several specific domains. It is well placed to detect confusion, to propose appropriate vocabulary, to overcome deadlock between scientists from different traditions, and to ask new questions or reformulate existing ones.


It is precisely this kind of situation that philosophers from the André Picard network face. Developmental biology is a crossroads specialty that uses a variety of disciplines, ranging from embryology to the theory of evolution, genetics and more recently metagenomics, marine ecology, mathematics or even developmental psychology, and developmental biology uses extraordinarily complex methodologies which few can master. In addition to its specific research topics, developmental biology wonders about its foundations, its key concepts, its relationship with other branches of life sciences, its long-term prospects: what are the key issues?


When appropriate, the philosopher intervenes to provide clarification, to put into perspective, to evoke past developments or advances relevant to other disciplines, to propose new concepts or suggest solutions to open questions. A philosopher may sometimes venture to criticize certain assumptions, methods or results, usually in the context of a controversy; but he refrains from taking a position of superiority, or from claiming privileged access to knowledge which may have escaped scientists.


Science is not the only side to benefit from interaction with philosophy. Working closely together with scientists on real problems in the context of research, and seeking to understand what science is in general philosophy, completes and corrects concepts it inherited. Science is in its own way a collection of organic entities that grow and have shapes that differ as much fundamental physics as jellyfish, sponges or lichens differ from mice.



Daniel Andler & Thomas Pradeu, Octobre 2015

The INDIBIO project


A new way of thinking about individuality and immortality concepts through close collaboration between philosophers and biologists

The project focuses on animals that do not fit the classic pattern of individuality, including colonial animals and complex life cycles. Three biology research teams from UPMC are involved (two Jussieu sites and Villefranche-sur-Mer) and a team of philosophers from Paris Sorbonne. There is collaboration with an interdisciplinary group working on the philosophy of developmental biology which brings together members of several institutions.


To ensure interaction between philosophers and biologists, and of research with education, ten Master of philosophy students will work on these concepts and will be immersed in scientific research teams. The unique collaboration between philosophers and biologists on these issues make for the originality of this interdisciplinary project.


bottom of page