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Homology and the Origin of Correspondence

Biology and Philosophy, Vol. 17, pp. 389-407, 2002

34 Pages Posted: 12 Dec 2007  

Ingo Brigandt

University of Alberta - Department of Philosophy


Homology is a natural kind term and a precise account of what homology is has to come out of theories about the role of homologues in evolution and development. Definitions of homology are discussed with respect to the question as to whether they are able to give a non-circular account of the correspondence or sameness referred to by homology. It is argued that standard accounts tie homology to operational criteria or specific research projects, but are not yet able to offer a concept of homology that does not presuppose a version of homology or a comparable notion of sameness. This is the case for phylogenetic definitions that trace structures back to the common ancestor as well as for developmental approaches such as Wagner's biological homology concept. In contrast, molecular homology is able to offer a definition of homology in genes and proteins that explicates homology by reference to more basic notions. Molecular correspondence originates by means of specific features of causal processes. It is speculated that further understanding of morphogenesis might enable biologists to give a theoretically deeper definition of homology along similar lines: an account which makes reference to the concrete mechanisms that operate in organisms.

Keywords: homology, evolution, development, molecular biology

Suggested Citation

Brigandt, Ingo, Homology and the Origin of Correspondence. Biology and Philosophy, Vol. 17, pp. 389-407, 2002. Available at SSRN:

Ingo Brigandt (Contact Author)

University of Alberta - Department of Philosophy ( email )

2-40 Assiniboia Hall
University of Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E7


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