Biological Principles is a product of a time in the early 20th century distinguished by revolutionary developments taking place in physics. The mechanistic philosophy of classical physics, with its emphasis on reductionism, determinism, and machine thinking, was being challenged by the philosophical implications of relativity and quantum mechanics. Alfred North Whitehead claimed these developments would require a fundamental revision not only of the foundations of physics but of natural science in general. Such challenges triggered new ways of thinking about biology, such as doubting its reducibility to physics while retaining a common overarching view of nature. It was such an organicist philosophy of biology that Woodger conceived of. Writing to the University of London Registrar in 1930, he proposed for philosophers of biology the following daunting role:
…no one had attempted to do for biology anything analogous to what Galileo had done for physics, and Boyle had done for chemistry. No one, that is to say, had undertaken a systematic critical study of the fundamental properties and special requirements of this science in relation to the most advanced metaphysical, epistemological and logical notions of the day.