Skip to main content
European Commission logo print header

Possible Life: The Philosophical Significance of Extending Biology

Project description

Answering philosophical questions about extending biology

How is biology being extended beyond life on Earth and what is the philosophical significance of this? The EU-funded LIFEMODE project will answer these questions using an approach that puts scientific practice into a dialogue with the philosophy of science and naturalistic metaphysics. It will examine the emerging fields of synthetic biology and astrobiology, focussing on the themes of unnatural biochemical bases and organisational principles of life, synthetic life, evolutionary possibilities and constraints, and the habitability of exoplanets. The overall aim of LIFEMODE is to further our understanding of the metaphysical dimension of science, drawing upon and developing diverse strands in theorising using philosophy of science and metaphysics concepts.

Objective

Possible Life: The Philosophical Significance of Extending Biology

Due to the latest technological advances in genetic engineering and space technology, scientists have developed strategies to engineer novel biological systems in laboratories, and to study through space telescopes the signs of possible life from other planets and solar systems. These newly discovered biological possibilities may turn out to be epoch-making. Apart from challenging our notion of life, they also have fundamental philosophical implications. The very question motivating the project is: How is biology being extended beyond the actual evolved life on Earth – and what is the philosophical significance of the turn to possible life? This question is studied through a two-pronged approach that puts scientific practice into a dialogue with philosophy of science and naturalistic metaphysics.

First, the project examines the emerging fields of synthetic biology and astrobiology. The key themes studied include unnatural biochemical bases and organizational principles of life, synthetic life, evolutionary possibilities and constraints, and the habitability of exoplanets. Empirical studies in six leading laboratories in Europe and the US are used to inform the study of these themes. Second, the research on possible life is employed as a resource for the development of philosophical theory. The three philosophical subprojects examine (i) modelling and simulating the possible, (ii) multiple realizability of biological kinds, and (iii) contingency and necessity in biology.

The project will advance our understanding of the modal dimension of science by addressing a paramount case – life. The project draws together and develops diverse strands in theorizing of the possible within philosophy of science and metaphysics. Through an unconventional combination of philosophical and empirical analysis the project seeks to facilitate the application of metaphysical concepts to cutting-edge scientific research.

Host institution

UNIVERSITAT WIEN
Net EU contribution
€ 1 999 566,00
Address
UNIVERSITATSRING 1
1010 Wien
Austria

See on map

Region
Ostösterreich Wien Wien
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Links
Total cost
€ 1 999 566,00

Beneficiaries (1)