My research in the philosophy of biology aims at answering the following four questions:
What do biologists know?
How is this knowledge organized?
How is this knowledge justified?
How does this knowledge change over time?
Broad questions like these are best studied in the context of particular cases. Accordingly, in my research, I focus on the history and philosophy of evolutionary theory, with a particular emphasis on the rise of evolutionary-developmental biology (evo-devo). Much of my work attempts to clarify the conceptual relationships between evo-devo and mainstream evolutionary theorizing. In this work, I use both historical and philosophical analysis to understand the potential sources of tension between these fields and to show how these tensions can be mitigated. I thereby show how two separate bodies of knowledge can be productively integrated.
My work on the philosophy of evo-devo has implications for thinking about biological theories and biological concepts more generally. Many of the apparent tensions between the two fields stem from mistaken pictures of theory and concept structure. For instance, in my work on the ‘homology’ concept (Biology & Philosophy 2018), I show that the concept has a complicated internal structure, and that allegedly competing accounts of homology fit together within this structure. In future work on ‘homology’, I will investigate the historical dynamics that led to the concept having this complicated structure.
I also work on the nature of inference in the biological sciences. In particular, I have argued that inference to the best explanation plays a minimal role in the biological sciences, which instead adhere to the vera causa ideal. On this basis, I have defended a form of scientific realism about the biological sciences (BJPS 2018). I have also argued that this fact has implications for attempts to justify the use of inference to the best explanation in philosophical contexts, especially metaphysics (Erkenntnis 2017).
Lastly, I work on the history of 19th century systematics, in particular the Quinarian System developed by William Sharp Macleay. His system, with its intricate numerical and quasi-geometrical regularities, has been widely misunderstood as an idealist approach to classification. In my work, I have tried to set the record straight, showing the empirical and theoretical issues that motivated his approach (Journal of the History of Biology 2016). I am currently investigating the use Darwin made of Macleay’s work in his species notebooks.
Novick, Aaron. forthcoming. "A reappraisal of Charles Darwin's engagement with the work of William Sharp Macleay." Journal of the History of Biology. doi: 10.1007/s10739-018-9541-z [PDF]
Novick, Aaron and Raphael Scholl. forthcoming. "Presume it Not: True Causes in the Search for the Basis of Heredity." The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. [PDF] [link]
Novick, Aaron. 2018. “The Fine Structure of ‘Homology’.” Biology and Philosophy 33:6. doi: 10.1007/s10539-018-9617-3 [PDF] [link]
Novick, Aaron. 2017. “Metaphysics and the Vera Causa Ideal: The Nun’s Priest’s Tale.” Erkenntnis 82 (5):1161-1176. doi: 10.1007/s10670-016-9863-1 [PDF] [link]
Novick, Aaron. 2016. “On the origins of the quinarian system of classification.” Journal of the History of Biology 49 (1):95-133. doi: 10.1007/s10739-015-9419-2 [PDF] [link]
Lehtinen, Richard. M., Travis L. Calkins, Aaron M. Novick, and Jessica L. McQuigg. 2016. “Re-assessing the conservation status of an island endemic frog.” Journal of Herpetology 50 (2):249-255. doi: 10.1670/14-161 [link]