Philosophy of Biology
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.
|PHIL-SHU 91-001 (22467)||1555 Century Avenue, Room 303||Mondays and Wednesdays, 9:45am to 11:00am|
|Brad Weslakefirstname.lastname@example.org||1555 Century Avenue, Room 1226||By appointment.|
|Andrew David Kingemail@example.com||1555 Century Avenue, Room 1065||Thursdays, 4pm—6pm, ARC.|
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. Finally, we consider whether racial categories serve any useful explanatory purpose in biology. No prior philosophy of science or biology will be assumed.
- Two exams.
- Two 6–8 page papers.
- Attendance and participation.
The final grade will be determined approximately as follows:
|Attendance and participation:||10%|
|First Exam:||Wednesday 1 March|
|Second Exam:||Wednesday 29 March|
|First Paper:||Monday 1 May|
|Second Paper:||Wednesday 17 May|
Attendance and Lateness
Students are required to attend all classes on time. An explanation for every absence or late attendance must be submitted in writing to the instructor. Every failure to attend class on time will count against the component of the final grade awarded for attendance and participation, unless an explanation is received and approved at least one day prior to the class in question. Requests for exceptions will be considered on a case by case basis, and typically granted only when related to an illness or other unforeseeable change in life circumstance. Students who have been excessively absent will be considered to have unofficially withdrawn and will be given a final grade of F.
It is a condition on passing this course that students read and adhere to the NYU Shanghai policy on academic integrity as described in the current NYU Shanghai Academic Bulletin.
All notes, readings and assignments can be found here.
Meeting 1: Introductory Discussion (Monday 6 February)
- Godfrey-Smith, Peter. 2009. Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection, Oxford University Press, Oxford, §1.
Section I: Natural Selection
Meeting 2: The Propensity Interpretation of Fitness (Wednesday 8 February)
- Godfrey-Smith (2009, §2.1).
- Mills, Susan K. and Beatty, John H. 1979. “The Propensity Interpretation of Fitness”, in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 46, No. 2, June, pp. 263–286.
- Sober, Elliott. unpublished. “Two Fitness Fallacies”., §1.
Meeting 3: Problems for The Propensity Interpretation (Monday 13 February)
- Sober, Elliott. 2000. “The Two Faces of Fitness”, in Singh, Krimbas, Paul and Beatty (Ed), Thinking about Evolution: Historical, Philosophical, and Political Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 309–321.
- Sober, Elliott. unpublished. “Two Fitness Fallacies”., §2.
- Godfrey-Smith (2009, §§2.2–2.3).
Meeting 4: Selection Of and Selection For (Wednesday 15 February)
- Sober, Elliott. 1984. The Nature of Selection: Evolutionary Theory in Philosophical Focus, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, §3.2.
- Fodor, Jerry A. 2008. “Against Darwinism”, in Mind and Language, Vol. 23, No. 1, February, pp. 1–24. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0017.2007.00324.x.
Meeting 5: What Can Selection Explain? (Monday 20 February)
- Forber, Patrick. 2005. “On the Explanatory Roles of Natural Selection”, in Biology and Philosophy, Vol. 20, No. 2, March, pp. 329–342.
- Godfrey-Smith (2009, §§3.1–3.3).
Meeting 6: Selection and Drift as Forces (Wednesday 22 February)
- Sober, Elliott. 1984. The Nature of Selection: Evolutionary Theory in Philosophical Focus, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, Chapter 1.
Meeting 7: Selection and Drift as Trends (Monday 27 February)
- Matthen, Mohan and Ariew, André. 2002. “Two Ways of Thinking about Fitness and Natural Selection”, in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 99, No. 2, February, pp. 55–83. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/3655552.
- Godfrey-Smith (2009, §§3.4–3.6).
Meeting 8: First Exam (Wednesday 1 March)
Section II: Individuals, Collectives, Levels and Transitions
Meeting 9: Individuals, Reproduction and Collectives (Monday 6 March)
- Janzen, Daniel H. 1977. “What Are Dandelions and Aphids?”, in The American Naturalist, Vol. 111, No. 979, May, pp. 586–589.
- Godfrey-Smith (2009, §4–5).
Meeting 10: Altruism and Group Selection: Theory (Wednesday 8 March)
- Sober, Elliott and Wilson, David Sloan. 1998. Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, pp. 17–35.
Meeting 11: Altruism and Group Selection: Examples (Monday 13 March)
- Sober and Wilson (1998, pp. 35–54).
Meeting 12: Two Kinds of Group Selection (Wednesday 15 March)
- Okasha, Samir. 2006. Evolution and the Levels of Selection, Oxford University Press, Oxford, §§2.1–2.2.
Meeting 13: Darwinian Populations and Levels of Selection (Monday 20 March)
- Godfrey-Smith (2009, §§6.1–6.2).
Meeting 14: Major Evolutionary Transitions (Wednesday 22 March)
- Godfrey-Smith (2009, §6.3).
- Kuzdzal-Fick, Jennie J. and Fox, Sara A. and Strassmann, Joan E. and Queller, David C. 2011. “High Relatedness Is Necessary and Sufficient to Maintain Multicellularity in Dictyostelium”, in Science, Vol. 334, No. 6062, December, pp. 1548–1551. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1213272.
Meeting 15: Review (Tuesday 28 March, Room 309, 4–5pm)
Meeting 16: Second Exam (Wednesday 29 March)
Section III: Development
Meeting 17: Heritability I (Monday 10 April)
- Sober, Elliott. 2001. “Separating Nature and Nurture”, in Wasserman and Wachbroit (Ed), Genetics and Criminal Behavior, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 47–78.
Meeting 18: Heritability II (Wednesday 12 April)
- Block, Ned. 1996. “How Heritability Misleads About Race”, in The Boston Review, Vol. 20, January, pp. 30–35. URI: https://www.nyu.edu/gsas/dept/philo/faculty/block/papers/Heritability.html
Meeting 19: Parity (Monday 17 April)
- Godfrey-Smith, Peter. 2000. “Explanatory Symmetries, Preformation, and Developmental Systems Theory”, in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 67, September, pp. S322–S331. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/188678.
Section IV: Race
Meeting 20: Anti-Realism (Wednesday 19 April)
- Du Bois, W. E. B. 1897. The Conservation of Races, The American Negro Academy Occasional Papers, No. 2, Washington DC. Reprinted in Du Bois, W. E. B. 1970. W. E. B. Du Bois Speaks: Speeches and Addresses 1890–1919, Pathfinder Press, New York, pp. 73--85. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5422/fordham/9780823254545.003.0003
- Appiah, Kwame Anthony. 1985. “The Uncompleted Argument: Du Bois and the Illusion of Race”, in Critical Inquiry, Vol. 12, No. 1, pp. 21–37. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/448319.
Meeting 21: Social Constructivism (Monday 24 April)
- Taylor, Paul C. 2000. “Appiah’s Uncompleted Argument: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Reality of Race”, in Social Theory and Practice, Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 103–128. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5840/soctheorpract20002616.
Meeting 22: Lineage Realism I (Wednesday 26 April)
- Andreasen, Robin O. 1998. “A New Perspective on the Race Debate”, in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 49, No. 2, June, pp. 199–225. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/49.2.199.
Meeting 23: Lineage Realism II (Wednesday 3 May)
- Glasgow, Joshua. 2003. “On the New Biology of Race”, in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 100, No. 9, September, pp. 456–474. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5840/jphil2003100930.
- Andreasen, Robin O. 2005. “The Meaning of ‘Race’: Folk Conceptions and the New Biology of Race”, in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 102, No. 2, February, pp. 94–106. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5840/jphil200510222.
Meeting 24: Why Do We Have Racial Concepts? Social Factors (Sunday 7 May)
- Hacking, Ian. 2005. “Why Race Still Matters”, in Daedalus, Vol. 134, No. 1, January, pp. 102–116. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1162/0011526053124460.
Meeting 25: Why Do We Have Racial Concepts? Cognitive Factors (Monday 8 May)
- Machery, Edouard and Faucher, Luc. forthcoming. “Why do we Think Racially? Culture, Evolution, and Cognition”, in Cohen and Lefebvre (Ed), Handbook of Categorization in Cognitive Science, Elsevier, Amsterdam.
Meeting 26: Should We Still Use Racial Concepts? (Wednesday 10 May)
- Mallon, Ron. 2006. “‘Race’: Normative, Not Metaphysical or Semantic”, in Ethics, Vol. 116, No. 3, April, pp. 525–551. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/500495.
Meeting 27: Population Genetic Realism I (Monday 15 May)
- Hochman, Adam. 2013. “Against the New Racial Naturalism”, in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 110, No. 6, June, pp. 331–351. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5840/jphil2013110625.
Meeting 28: Population Genetic Realism II (Wednesday 17 May)
- Spencer, Quayshawn. 2015. “Philosophy of Race Meets Population Genetics”, in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Vol. 52, August, pp. 46–55. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsc.2015.04.003.
Updated: 17 April 2017