Christophe Malaterre

Christophe Malaterre
Université du Québec à Montréal | UQAM · Department of Philosophy

PhD in philosophy, Université Paris 1 - Panthéon Sorbonne

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49
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Introduction
I am a philosopher of science who focuses on astrobiology and the origins of life, and with a specialty in digital humanities. Research questions include the nature of life, the formalization of the transition from non-living matter to life, the epistemic grounding of origins of life theories. I also use NLP computational approaches (topic-modeling, clustering) to carry out conceptual and historical analyses in the philosophy of science, for instance on the use of epistemic concepts in science.
Additional affiliations
August 2012 - present
Université du Québec à Montréal
Position
  • Chair

Publications

Publications (49)
Chapter
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Explanation in biology has long been characterized as being different from explanation in other scientific disciplines, in particular from explanation in physics. One of the reasons was the existence in biology of explanation types that were unheard of in the physical sciences: teleological and functional explanations, historical and evolutionary e...
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Probably the most distinctive feature of synthetic biology is its being “synthetic” in some sense or another. For some, synthesis plays a unique role in the production of knowledge that is most distinct from that played by analysis: it is claimed to deliver knowledge that would otherwise not be attained. In this article, my aim is to explore how sy...
Article
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Science is now studying biodiversity on a massive scale. These studies are occurring not just at the scale of larger plants and animals, but also at the scale of minute entities such as bacteria and viruses. This expansion has led to the development of a specific sub-field of “microbial diversity”. In this paper, I investigate how microbial diversi...
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Do trees of life have roots? What do these roots look like? In this contribution, I argue that research on the origins of life might offer glimpses on the topology of these very roots. More specifically, I argue (1) that the roots of the tree of life go well below the level of the commonly mentioned ‘ancestral organisms’ down into the level of much...
Article
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The plurality of definitions of life is often perceived as an unsatisfying situation stemming from still incomplete knowledge about 'what it is to live' as well as from the existence of a variety of methods for reaching a definition. For many, such plurality is to be remedied and the search for a unique and fully satisfactory definition of life pur...
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The question of the origin of life is a tenacious question that challenges many branches of science but is also extremely multifaceted. While prebiotic chemistry and micropaleontology reformulate the question as that of explaining the appearance of life on Earth in the deep past, systems chemistry and synthetic biology typically understand the ques...
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As a discipline of its own, the philosophy of science can be traced back to the founding of its academic journals, some of which go back to the first half of the twentieth century. While the discipline has been the object of many historical studies, notably focusing on specific schools (e.g., logical empiricism) or major figures of the field (e.g.,...
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Natural selection is commonly seen not just as an explanation for adaptive evolution, but as the inevitable consequence of “heritable variation in fitness among individuals”. Although it remains embedded in biological concepts, such a formalisation makes it tempting to explore whether this precondition may be met not only in life as we know it, but...
Preprint
Natural selection is commonly seen not just as an explanation for adaptive evolution, but as the inevitable consequence of “heritable variation in fitness among individuals”. Although it remains embedded in biological concepts, such a formalisation makes it tempting to explore whether this precondition may be met not only in life as we know it, but...
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The concept of “life” certainly is of some use to distinguish birds and beavers from water and stones. This pragmatic usefulness has led to its construal as a categorical predicate that can sift out living entities from non-living ones depending on their possessing specific properties—reproduction, metabolism, evolvability etc. In this paper, we ar...
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Scientific articles have semantic contents that are usually quite specific to their disciplinary origins. To characterize such semantic contents, topic-modeling algorithms make it possible to identify topics that run throughout corpora. However, they remain limited when it comes to investigating the extent to which topics are jointly used together...
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Thresholds are widespread in origin of life scenarios, from the emergence of chirality, to the appearance of vesicles, of autocatalysis, all the way up to Darwinian evolution. Here, we analyze the “error threshold,” which poses a condition for sustaining polymer replication, and generalize the threshold approach to other properties of prebiotic sys...
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Pluralism is widely appealed to in many areas of philosophy of science, though what is meant by ‘pluralism’ may profoundly vary. Because explanations of behaviour have been a favoured target for pluralistic theses, the sciences of behaviour offer a rich context in which to further investigate pluralism. This is what the topical collection The Biolo...
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Though only established as a discipline since the 1970s, philosophy of biology has already triggered investigations about its own history (e.g., Grene and Depew 2004; Hull 2008). When it comes to assessing the road since travelled—the research questions that have been pursued—manuals and ontologies also offer specific viewpoints, highlighting dedic...
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Behaviour is a widespread object of research in biology, yet it is often left undefined, and the variety of existing definitions have not led to a consensus. We argue that the fundamental problem in defining behaviour has been the assumption that the concept must be categorical: either a phenomenon is a behaviour or it is not. We propose instead th...
Chapter
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Function pluralists argue against the possibility of any unified account of function that would capture the multiple functional ascriptions we make in our use of ‘function’. Here, I contribute to this pluralist view. I dissect a specific case of functional ascription in molecular biology—the attribution of functions to catalytic RNAs called ribozym...
Preprint
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Functional diversity holds the promise of understanding ecosystems in ways unattainable by taxonomic diversity studies. Underlying this promise is the intuition that investigating the diversity of what organisms actually do-i.e. their functional traits-within ecosystems will generate more reliable insights into the ways these ecosystems behave, com...
Article
Functional diversity holds the promise of understanding ecosystems in ways unattainable by taxonomic diversity studies. Underlying this promise is the intuition that investigating the diversity of what organisms actually do—i.e. their functional traits—within ecosystems will generate more reliable insights into the ways these ecosystems behave, com...
Article
Functional diversity holds the promise of understanding ecosystems in ways unattainable by taxonomic diversity studies. Underlying this promise is the intuition that investigating the diversity of what organisms actually do—i.e. their functional traits—within ecosystems will generate more reliable insights into the ways these ecosystems behave, com...
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What is philosophy of science? Numerous manuals, anthologies or essays provide carefully reconstructed vantage points on the discipline that have been gained through expert and iecemeal historical analyses. In this paper, we address the question from a complementary erspective: we target the content of one major journal of the field—Philosophy of S...
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The history and philosophy of the Origin of Life - Volume 15 Issue 4 - David Dunér, Christophe Malaterre, Wolf Geppert
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Questions of biodiversity are so much more likely to be associated with the fate of larger plants and animals that one may wonder whether microorganisms matter at all in this debate. Nevertheless, microbial diversity has become the focus of intense research in the past decades, owing much to technical advances that now greatly facilitate the identi...
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Mechanistic explanations are one of the major types of explanation in biology. The explanatory force of mechanisms is apparent in such typical cases as the functioning of an ion channel or the molecular activation of a receptor: it includes the specification of a model of mechanism and the rehearsing of a causal story that tells how the explanandum...
Book
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Patterns of explanation in biology have long been recognized as different from those deployed in other scientific disciplines, especially physics. Celebrating the diversity of explanatory models found in biology, this volume details their varying types as well as their relationships to one another. It covers the key current debates in the philosoph...
Article
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Evolutionary theory is readily acknowledged to be stochastic in that it only enables one to make probabilistic predictions, for instance regarding changes in genotypic frequencies within given populations. However, the very origin of this stochastic character has been the focus of much philosophical debate. Is it due to an inherent indeterminism? O...
Chapter
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In research on the origins of life, the concept of “chemical evolution” aims at explaining the transition from non-living matter to living matter. There is however strong disagreement when it comes to defining this concept more precisely, and in particular with reference to a chemical form of Darwinian evolution: for some, chemical evolution is not...
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In this contribution, I investigate the changes of focus in the philosophical concept of emergence in the nineteenth and twentieth century period, especially in connection with the problem of characterizing life and its origins. Since its early philosophical formulation in the nineteenth century, “emergence” has been applied to vital phenomena, but...
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Many researchers consider cancer to have molecular causes, namely mutated genes that result in abnormal cell proliferation (e.g. Weinberg 1998). For others, the causes of cancer are to be found not at the molecular level but at the tissue level where carcinogenesis consists of disrupted tissue organization with downward causation effects on cells a...
Article
In philosophy, materialism is most often taken as a metaphysical thesis according to which everything that exists is matter or results from matter (including life and consciousness); this thesis offers a monist ontology that typically contrasts with idealism, dualism, and vitalism. Materialism also refers to an ethical doctrine according to which t...
Article
Physicalism is the metaphysical thesis that everything is physical. According to this thesis, everything in the world, including chemical, biological, mental, and social entities and processes, is constituted by or results from physical entities and processes. In analytic philosophy, one might say that physicalism is the claim that everything super...
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Jusqu’à présent, les études sur la biodiversité ont surtout concerné les organismes vivants les plus facilement identifiables, ces « macrobes » que sont les animaux et les plantes. Des études récentes, néanmoins, ont commencé à s’intéresser à la biodiversité du monde des micro-organismes ou des « microbes », et notamment des bactéries. Certains sci...
Article
Reductionism is a philosophical notion that encompasses a set of ontological, methodological, and epistemological claims about how entities, processes, methods, and knowledge relate to one another across levels of organization and/or scientific domains. Typically, the question is whether such elements at higher levels of organization (i.e., biologi...
Book
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Life and its appearance on Earth are among the key applications of the notion of emergence: they are claimed to be irreducible to physico-chemical laws or unpredictable. As origins of life are more than ever studied by science, which meaning can be given to the claim that the appearance of life is an emergent phenomenon? This thesis argues that eme...
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This Special Issue of Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres contains papers based on the contributions presented at the Conference "Defining Life" held in Paris (France) on 4-5 February, 2008. The main objective of this Conference was to confront speakers from several disciplines--chemists, biochemists, biologists, exo/astrobiologists, comput...
Chapter
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Les ribozymes sont des brins d’ARN qui ont une propriété toute particulière, celle de pouvoir catalyser des réactions chimiques comme, par exemple, l’hydrolyse de certains autres brins d’ARN. Ces molécules font alors fréquemment l’objet d’attributions fonctionnelles relatives à ces activités de catalyse. Dans cette contribution, je montre que ces a...
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La théorie de l’évolution naturelle est une théorie probabiliste. Quelle est l’origine de ce caractère stochastique ? Faut-il y voir l’influence d’un indéterministe de la nature ou bien, au contraire, la marque de limites épistémologiques ? Dans cette contribution, nous proposons tout d’abord de passer en revue les principaux arguments échangés dan...
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Biochemical networks are often called upon to illustrate emergent properties of living systems. In this contribution, I question such emergentist claims by means of theoretical work on genetic regulatory models and random Boolean networks. If the existence of a critical connectivity Kc of such networks has often been coined “emergent” or “irreducib...
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It is a most commonly accepted hypothesis that life originated from inanimate matter, somehow being a synthetic product of organic aggregates, and as such a result of some sort of prebiotic synthetic biology. In the past decades, the newly formed scientific discipline of synthetic biology has set am- bitious goals by pursuing the complete design an...
Chapter
Previous Entry iconEncyclopedia Next Entry The origin of life remains today one of the most challenging puzzles to science. The challenge is twofold: (1) qualify the essence of life and (2) explain its appearance on Earth. Although both aspects have been subject to much scientific investigation, no satisfactory explanation has been formulated so fa...
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Pour la Science N°385 - novembre 2009. (Article de vulgarisation)
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Disponible en ligne, URL : http://noesis.revues.org/1656
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In recent cancer research, strong and apparently conflicting epistemological stances have been advocated by different research teams in a mist of an ever-growing body of knowledge ignited by ever-more perplexing and non-conclusive experimental facts: in the past few years, an ‘organicist’ approach investigating cancer development at the tissue leve...
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Nineteenth Century « Neo-vitalism »: A second French school of emergence? The philosophical notion of emergence was developed by British philosophers at the end of the 19th and early 20th century so as to capture the appearance of novelty in nature. At that time, French philosophers from the ‘spiritualist positivism’ movement formulated very simila...

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