Philosophy of Biology

Fall 2014

Charles Darwin, Diagram of Divergence of Taxa

Part of Darwin's “Diagram of Divergence of Taxa”, the only diagram in On The Origin of Species. The diagram depicts “hypothetical phylogenetic relationships, showing how lineages diverge from common ancestors and give rise to both extinct and extant species. Time intervals (between Roman numerals) represent thousands of generations. [...] Distance along the horizontal axis represents degree of divergence (as, for example, in body form). Darwin recognized that rates of evolution vary greatly, showing this by different angles in the diagram” (Futuyma, 2009, p. 21). Note too that the diagram displays Darwin's recognition that it is the most divergent species that are most likely to survive. For the full diagram see here.

Details

Course CodesLocation Times
PHIL-UA 91Tisch Hall LC4Mondays and Wednesdays, 3:30pm to 4:45pm

Instructor

NameEmailOfficeConsultation Times
Brad Weslakebrad.weslake@nyu.edu5 Washington Place, 506By appointment

Overview

This class is an introduction to philosophy of biology focussing on issues connected with the nature and scope of biological explanations. We first examine a set of foundational questions concerning the nature and scope of the explanations provided by natural selection. We then examine the explanatory role of genes in development. No prior philosophy of science or biology will be assumed.

Textbooks

The following textbook is mandatory (and is in the bookstore):

The following textbooks are optional:

  • Sober, Elliott and Wilson, David Sloan. 1998. Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. [AddAll]
  • Okasha, Samir. 2006. Evolution and the Levels of Selection, Oxford University Press, Oxford. [AddAll]

For those without any background in evolutionary biology, the definitive textbooks are:

  • Futuyma, Douglas J. 2009. Evolution, Sinauer Associates, Sunderland MA. [AddAll]
  • Ridley, Mark. 2003. Evolution, Blackwell, Malden MA. [AddAll]

Assessment

Requirements:

The final grade will be determined approximately as follows:

Reading Summaries: 15%
First Research Paper: 35%
Second Research Paper: 50%

Due dates:

Reading Summaries: At each associated class, with no exceptions
First Paper: Friday 7 NovemberQuestions [PDF]
Second Paper: Monday 15 DecemberQuestions [PDF]

Schedule

Meeting One: Introductory Discussion (Wednesday 3 September)

Secondary

Section I: Natural Selection

Meeting Two: The Propensity Interpretation of Fitness (Monday 8 September)

Primary

Meeting Three: Problems for The Propensity Interpretation (Wednesday 10 September)

Primary
Secondary

Meeting Four: Selection Of and Selection For (Monday 15 September)

Primary
Secondary

Meeting Five: Selection Of and Selection For, continued (Wednesday 17 September)

Meeting Six: Replicators and Interactors (Monday 22 September)

Primary
Secondary

Meeting Seven: What Can Selection Explain? (Wednesday 24 September)

Primary
Secondary

Meeting Eight: Selection and Drift as Forces (Monday 29 September)

Primary
Primary

Meeting Ten: Selection and Drift as Causes (Monday 6 October)

Primary
Secondary

Section II: Individuals, Collectives, Levels and Transitions

Meeting Eleven: Individuals and Reproduction (Wednesday 8 October)

Primary
Secondary

No Class Monday 13 October

Meeting Twelve: Individuals and Collectives (Wednesday 15 October)

Primary
Secondary

Meeting Thirteen: Altruism and Group Selection: Theory (Monday 20 October)

Primary
Secondary

No Class Wednesday 22 October

Meeting Fourteen: Altruism and Group Selection: Examples (Monday 27 October)

Primary

Meeting Fifteen: Two Kinds of Group Selection (Wednesday 29 October)

Primary
Secondary

Meeting Sixteen: Darwinian Populations and Levels of Selection (Monday 3 November)

Primary

Meeting Seventeen: The Major Evolutionary Transitions (Wednesday 5 November)

Primary

No Class Monday 10 November

Meeting Eighteen: The First Transition (Wednesday 12 November)

Primary

Section III: Development

Meeting Nineteen: Assigning Causal Responsibility (Monday 17 November)

Primary
Secondary

No Class Wednesday 19 November

Meeting Twenty: For Dynamical Systems Theory (Monday 24 November)

Primary

Meeting Twenty One: Against Dynamical Systems Theory (Wednesday 26 November)

Primary

Meeting Twenty Two: (Monday 1 December)

Kitcher continued.

Meeting Twenty Three: (Wednesday 3 December)

Primary

Meeting Twenty Four: (Monday 8 December)

Primary

Meeting Twenty Five: (Wednesday 10 December)

Primary

Updated: 1 December 2014