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Griffiths Lab

Combining philosophy with biology
The Theory and Method in Biosciences Research group aims to harness the integrative potential of biological theory.

Griffiths Lab adds value by aiming to remove conceptual and methodological roadblocks to the advancement of science and by using high level biological theory, particularly an evolutionary perspective, to promote a more integrative approach to research questions.

By applying the philosophy of science to contemporary biological and biomedical research, we aim to change the way biology research is approached.

A philosophy of medicine for the 21st century

This project aims to develop a new theory of health and disease to accommodate developments in contemporary biology such as the ‘developmental origins of health and disease’, the role of the microbiome in physiology, and the fact that our bodies are sites of evolutionary conflict between multiple genomes, particularly in early life. It will make the discipline of philosophy an active participant in the creation of integrative biomedical research. 

Constructing objective biological criteria of health

The project addresses two Big Questions. First, what is an organism and what is the telos (goal) towards which an organism is structured? Theories of the organism have a long and distinguished history in philosophy, from Aristotle through Kant to early 20th century philosophy of biology and medicine.

We argue that a philosophy of health must rest on a theory of the organism, which in turn should be based on the fundamental organising theory of the life sciences, the theory of evolution. Our second Big Question is whether there is a factual distinction between the Normal and the Pathological.

Contrary to the current consensus we argue that describing the structure and function of a living organism necessarily draws distinctions between normal and pathological. Moreover, new developments in biology provide biological reasons for changing our ideas about which phenotypes are healthy and which pathological, because these discoveries affect our theory of the organism.

Norms and Natures: How ideas about the genetic basis and the ethical status of behaviors influence one another

This project will assess whether and how laypeople’s perceptions of the genetic etiology of phenotypes influences their normative views about those phenotypes and, conversely, whether normative views influence the acceptance of information about genetic causation. Causal graph theory provides the project with a powerful tool to make lay and scientific models of genetic causation commensurable. The project will test strategies for the dissemination of information about genetic causation designed to reduce illicit inferences to and from normative views about phenotypes.

The project will advance understanding of lay cognition about genetic causation. It will reveal the role that laypeople’s implicit causal models play in individual and societal reflection on the ethical significance of phenotypes. Finally, it will produce research based recommendations on how to disseminate genetic findings to improve understanding of the causal role of genes and encourage a more sophisticated understanding of the ethical implications of genetic research.

  • Professor Paul Griffiths
  • Dr Kate Lynch
  • Pierrick Bourrat
  • Carl Brusse
  • Dr Joshua Christie
  • Caitrin Donovan
  • Peter Takacs
  • Stefan Gawronski
  • Imogen Kavanagh
  • Axel Constant
  • Ying Liu
  • Dr Carrie Figdor (visiting scholar)
  • Wesley Fang


Research group leader

Photo of Professor Paul Griffiths
Professor Paul Griffiths
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