The topic of the philosophy of biology is very broad. It includes such common problems as the essence of life in opposition to the inanimate world, and more private, but related to extremely important issues of the origin of life and its evolution, the relationship between the psyche and physiology, etc. The subject of serious philosophical discussions is also the biological roots of aesthetics and morality. An important aspect of the philosophy of biology is a purely epistemological problem: the specifics of biological knowledge, the differences between biology and other natural sciences, and the features of biological theories and experiments. But the focus of the philosophy of biology is the so-called limiting questions for science about the living: what is the essence of life, what is the difference between living and nonliving. In this area, there are different philosophical approaches.

Basic philosophical approaches to the essence of life

Among these approaches, we can distinguish two completely opposite: reductionism and anti-reductionism. According to reductionism, life can be completely explained its physical and chemical organization. Reductionist position includes physicalism, treating living objects as extremely complex physico-chemical entities, and mechanicism likening the organism to a complex mechanism. Moreover, according to the mechanists, the functioning of living organisms within their framework similar to the mechanism of construction in turn can be fully explained with the help of physics and chemistry. Here, mechanicism joins with physicalism, but differs from it precisely by conducting a direct analogy between the organism and the mechanism. Anti-reductionist approaches argue that life is not limited solely to physical and chemical phenomena and that there are special factors or principles that determine its specificity, its difference from the inanimate world.

vitalism, its ancestor is Aristotle, who argued that the basis of living organisms, their emergence, development and functioning - an intangible soul (psuche) , which is the form of a living body [l] • According to Aristotle, all things are a combination of form and matter. Matter is what a thing consists of, and form is its essence, what makes a thing exactly what it is. Matter - possibility, form - reality (in Greek - entelechy). Forms are eternal, do not arise and do not collapse, exist outside space and time. According to Aristotle, the soul in relation to a living organism is both a formal, a driving and a target cause. The soul is the image and meaning of a living organization; at the same time it is the source of its formation, development and activity, and also the goal for which the bodily organization of a living organism arises from inanimate matter. As the totality of the causes of life, the soul controls the material processes by which the organism arises and exists. Thanks to Aristotle in biology, the notion of the expediency of the living, the so-called "teleology" (from Greek teleos - the goal, logos - teaching). In the vitalistic tradition coming from Aristotle, the basis of life is the immaterial organizing principle (in various senses of this word - immaterial, ideal, spiritual, etc.). This tradition prevailed in biology until the time of the New Age.

In the XVII century. there is mechanicism, one of the founders of which was Renee Descartes. The mechanics likened all the organisms and the human body (they regarded the human soul as immortal and immaterial) machines distinguished by the special subtlety and complexity of the material organization that was created in the finished form by God. Therefore, in their opinion, the functioning of living organisms can be completely explained with the help of physics and chemistry. In the XVIII century. appeared and atheistic mechanicism, whose representatives include such famous figures of the Enlightenment as Denis Diderot, Paul Henri Holbach, Julien de Lametry. Mechanists prevailed in biology until the middle of the eighteenth century, among the major figures of this trend, physiologists Albrecht Galler, Thomas Willis, Giovanni Borelli, zoologists Marcello Malpighi and Georges Buffon.

In the XVIII century. on the scientific arena again appeared a powerful and diverse view of the vitalistic movement, which sought to determine what is the specificity of life and what its nature is. The Vitalists were united by the conviction that the formation of living beings and their life activity are not reducible only to the action of physical and chemical forces and laws, but are conditioned by the existence of a specific life factor. Moreover, the vitalists asserted that the vital principle does not violate the laws of physics and chemistry, but only directs them to the right side, using them as tools in the construction and functioning of a biological organization. Along with those who considered the vital factor something intangible or even spiritual (Georg Stahl, Karl von Baer, ​​Erasmus Darwin, etc.), there were many who viewed it as a special natural factor similar to physical forces and physical energy, but not reducible to them (for example, Johann Reil, John Abernethy).

In the XIX century. vitalism continued to exist in parallel with the reductionistic physicochemical approach to the basics of life, which, moving away from simplistic mechanistic interpretations, quickly gained strength, while vitalism was giving up its positions. Progress in physics and chemistry, the emergence of new experimental techniques, rapidly expanded the field of possibilities for studying the physico-chemical foundations of life. All this inspired the idea that you can do without postulating a special life principle.

However, the fundamental eternal problems of integrity, formation, orderliness and expediency of the living continued to be unresolved. One of the largest physiologists of the XIX century. Claude Bernard, denying the existence of any vital force having a direct physical effect, suggested that if some vital factor can exist, then it should be legislative, not executive, [3].

It was in this direction that the concepts of so-called neo-vitalism that appeared at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries began to be developed. Its leaders were embryologist Hans Drish and physiologist Jacob von Iksküll. Both were Kantians. Driesch's life was initiated by the "entelechy," which he regarded as one of the a priori categories, adding to the remaining Kantian a priori categories-causality, substance and generality. As such a category, he defined entelechy as "individuality", combining the concepts of the whole and the goal in it [7]. For Ikskyull, the specific life factor was the "plan", which is followed by everything in the body and the wildlife as a whole. The plan is an active beginning, which Iksküll also defines as the "subject". At the same time, the plan has the status of the fundamental law of nature [31]. Neovitalism has not gained wide popularity. However, so far, scientists who stand on vitalistic positions continue to meet among biologists.

Although by the middle of XX century. the physicochemical approach to understanding the foundations of life was established in biology, many scientists who rejected vitalism did not accept reductionism. In the 1920s. in the philosophy of biology began to develop emergent approach (> emerge - suddenly arise), the founder of which was the biologist To. L. Morgan [26]. According to this approach, which has since gained appreciable popularity, the specificity of life is determined by the special properties that arise when a complex physico-chemical organization appears, but it does not reduce to the properties of the components of this organization, but arises as a result of a qualitative leap. The initial leap was associated with the emergence of life, the first living organisms, and later biological evolution was accompanied by new qualitative leaps associated with the complication of biological organization. But for the emergent approach it is essential that the original cause of life is nevertheless hidden in a specific physico-chemical organization, and in this is its cardinal difference from vitalism, for which on the contrary - the life principle is the reason for the uniqueness of its material organization.

The amazing integrity of living organisms and their expedient arrangement always cause the greatest difficulties for understanding. Trying to cope with this problem, at the beginning of the XX century. there is a holistic approach, or holism, in its broadest sense (not identified with the concrete concept of J. Smets, who introduced the term holism ), the Holistic approach in biology asserts that the integrity of living organisms can not be reduced to the properties of their components and the individual processes taking place in them. Holism is often identified with vitalism and contrasted with reductionism. However, this understanding is inaccurate. Holism is opposed not by reductionism, but elementarism, explaining the whole properties of its parts. It should be taken into account that reductionism, in turn, is often identified with elementaryism, as well as with an analytical approach. This is not surprising, since reductionism, indeed, is often combined with elementalism. Among the holists there have always been many vitalists who considered the source of biological integrity to be a specific life principle, as well as adherents of the emergent approach. However, holism can very well be a reductionist one, when a living organism is viewed as an integral system, fully explainable within the framework of physics and chemistry.

For holistically thinking scientists and philosophers, the holistic approach was greatly supported by the emergence in the 1930s. on the scientific stage of the theory of systems and cybernetics. In an effort to avoid reductionism, L. von Bertalanffy created a general theory of systems, which was intended to reveal the general laws of complex systems of various nature and at the same time to discover specific patterns governing biological systems [16; 17]. His theory was based on the logical-mathematical apparatus. However, this direction, despite the important contribution to science, turned out to be on the periphery of interests of the majority of biologists who tried to understand the integral and expedient arrangement of living organisms, since they did not provide them with a reliable means of solving important problems for them.

The modern concept of self-organization, based on the mathematical apparatus of the theory of dynamic chaos and nonequilibrium thermodynamics [10], is close to the system holistic approach. Adherents of these concepts hope to solve the most difficult for biology problem of shape formation, as well as explain the features of the functioning of living organisms (according to I. Prigogine's expression, the emergence of order from chaos). It should be noted that here again we are faced with reductionism.

The understanding of integrity and expediency in biology has received a significant impetus from cybernetics, the science of "control and communication in machines and living organisms", according to the definition of N. Wiener, its founder [4]. Neighborhood of machines and organisms here was not accidental. A universal model of a cybernetic system is a mechanism - not a specific mechanism, of course, but a kind of formal construction, the interaction of components of which creates a functional unity. By now, a sophisticated computer with a rich periphery has become a favorite model of a living organism. Thanks to cybernetics, mechanism has in fact found a new breath. In cybernetics, the integrity of a functioning system is emphasized, and the connections and relationships between its parts allow preserving or purposefully changing its parameters. Cybernetics rehabilitated the concept of the goal in science, however, it was constantly stressed that it meant a purely operational definition of a goal that should not be identified with idealistic teleology. To do this, it was suggested that instead of the word "teleology the term teleonomy & quot ;. It should be noted that mechanicism in principle does not contradict holism. The very concept of the mechanism implies that it is not a set of parts, but a single structure designed to perform certain functions. On the basis of the theory of systems and cybernetics, a general system-theoretic approach has been developed in biology.

The most important moment introduced by cybernetics into theoretical biology and the philosophy of biology is the understanding of the organism as a system associated with the perception, processing, storage and use of information. However, a serious problem arises here. The information theory of K. Shannon, used in cybernetics, was created in connection with applied technical problems and is capable of quantifying only what we initially know is information, and its content is also known to us. In fact, this theory does not work with information, but with its encoding. It is not able to distinguish a complex meaningful sequence of signs from a random sequence. Semantic information theory, capable of assessing the meaning at a formal and quantitative level, has never been created. But just such a theory is necessary for biology.

Approximately since the 1960s. a whole series of theoretical biologists began to develop the notion that mathematics can become a guiding thread in understanding the essence of life, which will be able to identify and formulate in its formal language the specificity of living organisms and other biological objects (populations, ecological systems). Special hopes were placed on the actively developed at the time mathematical theory of systems and the theory of catastrophes. Among supporters of this view of the role of mathematics in biology, there were reductionists and anti-reductionists. So, embryologist K. Waddington, convinced that future theoretical biology should be based not so much on physics and chemistry as on mathematics, adhered to the emergent approach [14]. A mathematician R. Tom, the creator of the mathematical theory of catastrophes and based on it the mathematical theory of morphogenesis, believed that the vitalistic and mechanistic positions are compatible. He agreed with the vitalists that any micro-manifestation in the development and life of the organism, in principle reducible to physical and chemical phenomena, arises in accordance with the global "plan" or program & quot ;. At the same time, the evolution of each of the subsystems of the organism "is carried out in its own particular way, under the influence of local determinism, in principle reducible to physical and chemical phenomena" [12, p. 153-154]. Tom thought that it was necessary to build a mathematical model that interpreted the notion of a single plan for biological organization and described the mechanism of the directed process going in accordance with this plan to the pre-established result.

At the beginning of the XX century. appeared another anti-reductionist approach in the philosophy of biology - organicism, according to which it is the whole organization of the organism that determines all its vital activity. The structures that make up the body and the processes that take place in it, although they ensure the unity of the organism, but do not create it, the determinative factor is precisely the whole. Among the founders of organicism are biologists U. Ritter , E. Russell, J. Wojer.

So, W. Ritter in the book "Unity of the organism" (1919) briefly formulated the essence of his approach, which he called "organismism": "The organism in its totality is just as essential to explaining its elements as its elements - to explain the organism" [28, p. 24]. He called the opposite approach "elementalism". In organics, the hierarchical structure of the organism is usually emphasized and it is asserted that phenomena at the level of the whole organism can not be interpreted exclusively in the concepts of physics and chemistry. Wojer considered the unit of life not a cell, but the whole organism - unimportantly, unicellular or multicellular. In his opinion, a special organization supports the hierarchical structure of the organism and allows the synthesis of biological from the inorganic [32]. It is impossible not to notice the relationship of organicism and holism. Sometimes organicism is defined as materialistic holism. Organizmism arose as an attempt to escape from reductionism, not passing at the same time to the position of vitalism. But what can ensure the integrity of the body, what is its source? The above-named founders of organicism did not associate the integrity of the organism with a special factor, like the vitalists. They simply postulated that the organism is an irreducible to anything else natural reality, a natural unity to which inherent features of special properties, ensuring the interdependence of its parts, their subordination to the whole and all its purposeful life activity. W. Ritter and E. Russell considered organisms to be as independent natural units as atoms and molecules. Russell relied on the views of the philosopher A. Whitehead, who viewed the whole world as a hierarchy of organisms of varying degrees of complexity - from electrons and atoms to multicellular animals. Although physico-chemical processes in some way form the basis of life, however, the fundamental functions of living organisms, according to Russell, are not reducible to anything else and they can not be regarded as physical and chemical phenomena. He emphasizes that lower levels of organization of a living being condition, limit and make possible processes at higher levels, but do not explain them completely [29]. Often supporters of organicism, especially modern ones, trying to understand the phenomenon of the whole, like many holists, resort to an emergent approach.

Organicists contrast their approach to mechanicism, rightly considering it as a reductionist one. In his book "Biological Principles (1929) J. Woeger states this as follows:

Organisms differ from machines in the following ways:

(1) They are such that their parts differ in their properties when they are separated from the whole and when they are in general. Hence, "being part of the living whole" means internal organizing communication;

(2) The mutual relations of the parts as a whole and the latter with the environment are such that, in a typical environment in which the organism usually meets, it continues to exist, "despite" changes in the environment "by means of" changes in oneself.

(3) Unknown organisms that depend on their existence from some human mind or from some other mind. Therefore, the organism (in nature) is not connected with human needs, desires or goals in the same way as in the case of machines, i.e. they are not "made" by man for the sake of such purposes.

(4) This organism is the result of an evolutionary process in the biological sense. (Interpretations of evolution, by analogy with the so-called evolution of machines, put the cart before the horse).

(5) Organisms are genetically related to each other [32, p. 451-452].

Although the understanding of wholeness and expediency in biology received a significant impetus from cybernetics, organicists, paying tribute to it, treated it critically (for example, L. Von Bertalanffy and C. Waddington), because they believed that it was incapable of explaining independent activity organisms. In spite of the fact that organicists disown from vitalism, their postulating of the whole as the determining factor in the vital activity of the organism echoes in a number of relations with the vitalistic concepts of Dr Driesch and J. von Ikskull. Some contemporary followers of Ikskyul even consider him not a vitalist, but an organicist.

Many people consider the reductionist approach unacceptable for understanding the majority of biological phenomena, whether it concerns physiology, behavior, interaction of organisms in the ecosystem, embryonic development or evolution. Recently, more and more anti-reductionist biologists believe that organicism is the most promising paradigm in biology (see, for example, [18, 21, 24, 27]).

In the 1960s. a new anti-reductionist trend emerged in the understanding of the specificity of the living and in the study of biological objects. This is biosemiotics, that regards life and living organisms as sign processes and relationships [20]. Its representatives say that the specificity of life lies precisely in its semiotic character. The founders of this trend are the biologist I am. von Iksküll and linguist, semiotic and ethnographer T. Sybeeok, the author of the term "biosemiotics". In biosemiotics, sign processes at all levels are studied: molecular-biological, at the level of the cell, organism (for example, semiotics of hormonal regulation and processes in the nervous system), communities of organisms ( animals, communication between plants) and ecosystems. >

Molecular biology, initially imbued with reductionist pathos, has become an extremely important area of ​​biosemiological research. Molecular genetics was formed to a great extent due to the inclusion in its conceptual framework of such concepts as "genetic information" and genetic code & quot ;. Talking about the discovery of the genetic code, the famous biologist M. Ichchas wrote: "The most difficult thing in the" code problem "was to understand that the code exists. It took a whole century [8, p. 23]. Although the biosynthesis of proteins is carried out in a cell using a variety of chemical reactions, there is no direct chemical link between the structure of proteins and nucleic acids. This connection is inherently not of a chemical, but of an informational, semiotic nature. The sequence of nucleotides in DNA and RNA is information about the structure of the protein (the sequence of amino acids in it) only because there is a "reader" in the cell. (aka writer ) - in this case a complex system of protein biosynthesis that owns the "genetic language". In molecular genetics, terms related to language are widely used: transcription, translation , reading, editing, meaningful and meaningless sequences , etc. In fact, molecular biology studies so many chemical processes as information sign processes. Chemical processes are carriers of information. Even at the most fundamental level, biological phenomena reveal the properties of text and communication. In every cell and in the body as a whole, reading, writing, rewriting and creating new texts in the genetic language of macromolecules (nucleic acids and proteins) and their interactions are constantly occurring. Most proteins are signals that trigger various biological processes in the body.

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