Book Chapter

Traits, Genes, and Coding


Wheeler M (2007) Traits, Genes, and Coding. In: Matthen M, Stephens C, Gabbay DM, Thagard P & Woods J (eds.) Philosophy of Biology. Handbook of the Philosophy of Science. Amsterdam: Elsevier, pp. 369-399.;

According to the received view in biology, genes code for phenotypic traits during development. However, there are reasons to think that the massively distributed character of the causal systems underlying development is in tension with such representational talk about genes. The main contenders from the literature that purport to establish that genes are genuine coding elements in development fail to meet this challenge. An alternative and superior strategy for understanding and justifying coding talk in development turns on the fact that the process of protein synthesis exhibits the interlocking architectural features of arbitrariness and homuncularity. However, this proposal turns out to have the radical implication that it is mRNA, not DNA, that codes. Moreover, for any of the available strategies, including the one recommended here, there is a serious and unresolved issue surrounding the attempt to extend the reach of coding talk from proteins to traits.

genetic code; genetic information; representation; development; causal spread; arbitrariness; homuncularity; Genetic code; Personality Genetic aspects; Personality development; Nature and nurture; Behavior genetics

Title of seriesHandbook of the Philosophy of Science
Publication date31/12/2007
Publisher URL…bn=9780444515438
Place of publicationAmsterdam