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Hist Philos Life Sci. 2011;33(4):515-35.

Hierarchies and causal relationships in interpretative models of the neoplastic process.

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Università Campus Bio-Medico di Roma, Istituto dell'Agire Scientifico e Tecnologico, Via A. del Portillo, 21, 00128 Roma, Italy.


The aim of this paper is to present a critical analysis of the kind of biological systems identified in the main explanatory theories of cancer (i.e. Somatic Mutation Theory and Tissue Organization Field Theory) and how references to the hierarchical organization of these biological systems are used in their explanatory arguments. I will discuss these aspects in terms of the isolation of the "locus of control" (Bechtel and Richardson 2010); that is, the point at which decisions are made shaping the explanatory endeavour. In fact, the current view of the neoplastic process, not as a static circumstance but as an evolving molecular and cellular process, makes it evident that the choice of the right level of analysis is not self-evident. This focus clarifies some epistemological reasons for the divergence between reductionist and organicist accounts and seems to suggest that the basis for distinctions among causal relationships that scientists sometimes make can be found in the hierarchical character of complex biological systems. I will argue that these different causal relationships reflect different levels of epistemic concern.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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