Review of Lindley Darden "Reasoning in Biological Discoveries: Essays on Mechanisms, Interfield Relations and Anomaly Resolution"
One of the claims associated with philosophy of science in the tradition descending from Karl Popper is that the process of discovery in science is not amenable to rational analysis. The essays collected in Lindley Darden’s Reasoning in Biological Discoveries make a sustained effort to counter this idea by examining the processes and methods of discovery in the biological sciences. ‘‘Discovery cannot be relegated to wooly flights of imagination, unconstrained conjecture, or single ‘a-ha’ moments. Rather, there are more or less reliable yet inherently fallible strategies for discovery’’ (p. 85). One of the book’s central themes is that we can analyze and codify the process of discovery, but that doing so requires a clear understanding of the nature of biological explanation and of the relationship between explanations from different branches or fields of science. Thus while the book’s prime lessons are meant to be quite practical—Darden describes its potential utility for philosophers and historians of science, for scientists, and for building computational systems capable of making discoveries (p. 8)—the underlying discussion often touches on more abstract issues, such as the nature of reduction and the ontological commitments of science. This should make it appealing to a broad range of readers. It is rich in detail, and, bearing in mind that all but two of the twelve chapters have been previously published, I would recommend it to anyone interested in a ‘hands-on’ account of scientific reasoning.