‘Genetic Coding’ Reconsidered: An Analysis of Actual Usage

Ulrich E. Stegmann* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


This article reconsiders the theoretical role of the genetic code. By drawing on published and unpublished sources from the 1950s, I analyse how the code metaphor was actually employed by the scientists who first promoted its use. The analysis shows that the term ‘code’ picked out mechanism sketches, consisting of more or less detailed descriptions of ordinary molecular components, processes, and structural properties of the mechanism of protein synthesis. The sketches provided how-possibly explanations for the ordering of amino acids by nucleic acids (the ‘coding problem’). I argue that employing the code metaphor was justified in virtue of its descriptive-denotational and explanatory roles, and because it highlighted a similarity with conventional codes that was particularly salient at the time.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)707-730
Number of pages24
JournalBritish Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Issue number3
Early online date15 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016

Bibliographical note

I thank George Pandarakalam for research assistance; Hans-Jörg Rheinberger for hosting my stay at the Max Planck Institute for History of Science, Berlin; and Sahotra Sarkar and referees of this journal for offering detailed comments. Funded by the Wellcome Trust (WT098764MA).


Dive into the research topics of '‘Genetic Coding’ Reconsidered: An Analysis of Actual Usage'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this