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Possible Life: The Philosophical Significance of Extending Biology

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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.
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Host institution

UNIVERSITAT WIEN

Address

Universitatsring 1
1010 Wien

Austria

Activity type

Higher or Secondary Education Establishments

EU Contribution

€ 1 999 566

Beneficiaries (1)

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UNIVERSITAT WIEN

Austria

EU Contribution

€ 1 999 566

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 818772

Status

Ongoing project

  • Start date

    1 June 2019

  • End date

    31 May 2024

Funded under:

H2020-EU.1.1.

  • Overall budget:

    € 1 999 566

  • EU contribution

    € 1 999 566

Hosted by:

UNIVERSITAT WIEN

Austria