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 1 (22467)||1555 Century Avenue, Room 204||Mondays and Wednesdays, 9:45am to 11:00am|
|Brad Weslakefirstname.lastname@example.org||1555 Century Avenue, Room 961||By appointment.|
This class is an introduction to philosophy of biology focussing on issues connected with human nature. 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 6 March|
|First Paper:||Monday 1 April|
|Second Exam:||Monday 29 April|
|Second Paper:||Wednesday 15 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 Students who have been excessively absent will be considered to have unofficially withdrawn and will be given a final grade of F.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.
The following books have been placed on reserve in the library:
- Sober, Elliott. 2000. Philosophy of Biology, Westview Press, Boulder CO.
- Downes, Stephen M. and Machery, Edouard. 2013. Arguing About Human Nature: Contemporary Debates, Routledge, New York.
Meeting 1: Introductory Discussion (Monday 11 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 13 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 18 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: What Can Selection Explain? (Wednesday 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 5: How Much Does Selection Explain? (Monday 25 February)
- Gould, Stephen Jay and Lewontin, Richard C. 1979. “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme”, in Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences, Vol. 205, No. 1161, pp. 581–598. URI: https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.1979.0086.
Meeting 6: How Can We Tell What Selection Explains? (Wednesday 27 February)
- Maynard Smith, John. 1978. “Optimization Theory in Evolution”, in Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, Vol. 9, November, pp. 31–56. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1146/annurev.es.09.110178.000335.
Meeting 7: Review (Monday 4 March)
Meeting 8: First Exam (Wednesday 6 March)
Section II: Species
Meeting 9: Population Thinking (Monday 11 March)
- Sober, Elliott. 1980. “Evolution, Population Thinking, and Essentialism”, in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 47, No. 3, September, pp. 350–383. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/288942.
Meeting 10: Species as Individuals (Wednesday 13 March)
- Hull, David L. 1978. “A Matter of Individuality”, in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 45, No. 3, September, pp. 335–360. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/288811.
Meeting 11: Extrinsic Essentialism (Monday 18 March)
- Okasha, Samir. 2002. “Darwinian Metaphysics: Species And The Question Of Essentialism”, in Synthese, Vol. 131, No. 2, May, pp. 191–213. URI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1015731831011.
Meeting 12: Intrinsic Essentialism (Wednesday 20 March)
- Devitt, Michael. 2008. “Resurrecting Biological Essentialism”, in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 75, No. 3, July, pp. 344–382. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/593566.
Meeting 13: Anti-Essentialism (Monday 25 March)
- Ereshefsky, Marc. 2010. “What’s Wrong with the New Biological Essentialism”, in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 77, No. 5, December, pp. 674–685. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/656545.
Section III: Human Nature
Meeting 14: Sceptical and Nomological Accounts (Wednesday 27 March)
- Hull, David L. 1986. “On Human Nature”, in PSA: Proceedings of the Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association, Vol. Two: Symposia and Invited Papers, pp. 3–13.
- Machery, Edouard. 2008. “A Plea for Human Nature”, in Philosophical Psychology, Vol. 21, No. 3, June, pp. 321–329. URI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09515080802170119.
Meeting 15: Life History and Norm of Reaction Accounts (Monday 1 April)
- Ramsey, Grant. 2013. “Human Nature in a Post-essentialist World”, in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 80, No. 5, December, pp. 983–993. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/673902.
- Cashdan, Elizabeth. 2013. “What Is a Human Universal? Human Behavioral Ecology and Human Nature”, in Downes and Machery (Ed), Arguing About Human Nature: Contemporary Debates, Routledge, New York, pp. 71–80.
Meeting 16: Human Variability I (Wednesday 3 April)
- Downes, Stephen M. 2016. “Confronting Variation in the Social and Behavioral Sciences”, in Philosophy of Science, Vol. 83, No. 5, December, pp. 909–920. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/687874.
Meeting 17: Human Variability II (Monday 8 April)
Special Guest: Anup Gampa
- Henrich, Joseph and Heine, Steven J. and Norenzayan, Ara. 2010. “The Weirdest People in the World?”, in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Vol. 33, No. 2-3, June, pp. 61–83. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X0999152X.
Section IV: Heritability and Genetic Determinism
Meeting 18: Inference to Heritability (Wednesday 10 April)
- Bouchard, Thomas J. 2004. “Genetic Influence on Human Psychological Traits: A Survey”, in Current Directions in Psychological Science, Vol. 13, No. 4, August, pp. 148–151. URI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0963-7214.2004.00295.x.
- Sober, Elliott. 2001. “Separating Nature and Nurture”, in Wasserman and Wachbroit (Ed), Genetics and Criminal Behavior, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 47–78.
Meeting 19: Inference from Heritability (Monday 15 April)
- Block, Ned. 1995. “How Heritability Misleads About Race”, in Cognition, Vol. 56, No. 2, August, pp. 99–128.
Meeting 20: Genetic Determinism I (Wednesday 17 April)
- Rose, Steven and Lewontin, Richard C. and Kamin, Leon J. 1984. Not in Our Genes: Biology, Ideology and Human Nature, Pantheon, New York, Chapter 10: New Biology versus Old Ideology.
Meeting 21: Genetic Determinism II (Monday 22 April)
- Kitcher, Philip. 2000. “Battling the Undead: How (and How Not) to Resist Genetic Determinism”, in Singh, Krimbas, Paul and Beatty (Ed), Thinking about Evolution: Historical, Philosophical, and Political Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 396–414.
Meeting 22: Review (Wednesday 24 April)
Meeting 23: Second Exam (Monday 29 April)
Section V: Evolutionary Psychology
Meeting 24: The Program of Evolutionary Psychology (Sunday 5 May)
- Cosmides, Leda and Tooby, John.  2013. “Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer”, in Downes and Machery (Ed), Arguing About Human Nature: Contemporary Debates, Routledge, New York, pp. 83–92.
- Buller, David J. 2005. Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, Chapter 2: Mind.
Meeting 25: The Critique of Evolutionary Psychology (Monday 6 May)
Special Guest: Anup Gampa
- Buller, David J. 2005. Adapting Minds: Evolutionary Psychology and the Persistent Quest for Human Nature, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, Chapter 3: Adaptation.
Section VI: Evolutionary Theories of Human Uniqueness
Meeting 26: Ecological and Social Factors in Human Evolution (Wednesday 8 May)
Special Guest: Jeff Erlich
- González-Forero, Mauricio and Gardner, Andy. 2018. “Inference of Ecological and Social Drivers of Human Brain-Size Evolution”, in Nature, Vol. 557, No. 7706, May, pp. 554. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41586-018-0127-x.
Meeting 27: The Cooperative Breeding Model (Monday 13 May)
- Hawkes, Kristen. 2014. “Primate Sociality to Human Cooperation”, in Human Nature, Vol. 25, No. 1, March, pp. 28–48. URI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-013-9184-x.
- Tomasello, Michael and Gonzalez-Cabrera, Ivan. 2017. “The Role of Ontogeny in the Evolution of Human Cooperation”, in Human Nature, Vol. 28, No. 3, September, pp. 274–288. URI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-017-9291-1.
Meeting 28: The Niche Construction Model (Wednesday 15 May)
- Sterelny, Kim. 2011. “From Hominins to Humans: How Sapiens Became Behaviourally Modern”, in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, Vol. 366, No. 1566, March, pp. 809–822. URI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2010.0301.
Updated: 22 April 2019