PrinCE consists of a set of historical, conceptual and critical analyses of the scientific concept of “chemical evolution”. By specifically relying on historical and philosophical methodologies, it aims at shedding new light on the early evolutionary mechanisms mobilised to solve one of the most puzzling scientific problems: that of the origins of life. Endowed with a rich historical legacy, the concept of “chemical evolution” aims at explaining how non-living matter has evolved into living matter on the primitive Earth before the advent of the well-known “biological evolution”. It occupies a central yet controversial place in the scientific debate on the origins of life: for some, it simply is Darwinian evolution applied to chemistry; for others, it consists in radically different evolutionary processes, some of which are just being uncovered now by advances in systems chemistry and in synthetic biology. Yet, despite being a burning question in science, “chemical evolution” has largely been ignored by historians and philosophers of science. It is the aim of PrinCE to fill-in this gap. The project is structured around three methodologically-driven and interwoven sub-projects: (a) a historical-descriptive analysis of the concept of “chemical evolution”, so as to articulate its different construals since the 1850s; (b) a conceptual analysis of “chemical evolution”, especially in light some of the most recent advances in science, so as to elaborate an axiomatic reconstruction of the concept clarifying both units and processes of chemical evolution, and their relationships; (c) a critical analysis of the concept with a view to assessing its justification, its epistemic status as a scientific theory, as well as the modalities of its transition to “biological evolution”. PrinCE will thereby strongly advance our understanding of the very early mechanisms of evolution, of the roots of biological evolution, as well as of the origin and nature of life.
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