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||1555 Century Avenue, Room 1505||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 with a focus on causation and explanation in evolution and behavioural genetics. 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 2 March|
|First Paper:||Friday 1 April|
|Second Exam:||Sunday 24 April|
|Second Paper:||Friday 13 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 Students who have been excessively absent will be considered to have unofficially withdrawn and will be given a final grade of F.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:
- Futuyma, Douglas J. and Kirkpatrick, Mark. 2017. Evolution, Sinauer Associates, Sunderland MA.
- Sober, Elliott. 2000. Philosophy of Biology, Westview Press, Boulder CO.
- Sober, Elliott. 1984. The Nature of Selection: Evolutionary Theory in Philosophical Focus, MIT Press, Cambridge MA.
Meeting 1: Introductory Discussion (Monday 7 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 9 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 14 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 16 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: Selection and Drift as Forces (Monday 21 February)
- Sober, Elliott. 1984. The Nature of Selection: Evolutionary Theory in Philosophical Focus, MIT Press, Cambridge MA, Chapter 1.
Meeting 6: Selection and Drift as Trends (Wednesday 23 February)
- Godfrey-Smith (2009, §§3.4–3.6).
Meeting 7: Review (Monday 28 February)
Meeting 8: First Exam (Wednesday 2 March)
Section II: Individuals, Collectives, Levels and Transitions
Meeting 9: Individuals, Reproduction and Collectives (Monday 7 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 9 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 14 March)
- Sober and Wilson (1998, pp. 35–54).
Meeting 12: Two Kinds of Group Selection (Wednesday 16 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 21 March)
- Godfrey-Smith (2009, §§6.1–6.2).
Meeting 14: Major Evolutionary Transitions (Wednesday 23 March)
- Godfrey-Smith (2009, §6.3).
Section III: Genetic Causation
Meeting 15: Genome-Wide Association Studies (Monday 28 March)
- Harden, Kathryn Paige. 2021. The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality, Princeton University Press, Princeton, Chapter 3, pp. 45–71.
Meeting 16: Causation I (Wednesday 30 March)
- Harden (2021, Chapter 5, pp. 96–109).
Meeting 17: Heritability I (Monday 4 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 6 April)
- Harden (2021, Chapter 6, pp. 110–123).
- Block, Ned. 1995. “How Heritability Misleads About Race”, in Cognition, Vol. 56, No. 2, August, pp. 99–128.
Meeting 19: Causation II (Monday 11 April)
Special Guest: Kate Lynch
- Lynch, Kate E. 2021. “The Meaning of “Cause” in Genetics”, in Cold Spring Harbour Perspectives in Medicine, Vol. 11, No. 9, September, pp. 1–12.
Meeting 20: The Missing Heritability Problem (Wednesday 13 April)
Special Guest: Qiaoying Lu
- Harden (2021, Chapter 6, pp. 123–129).
- Maher, Brendan. 2008. “Personal Genomes: The Case of the Missing Heritability”, in Nature, Vol. 456, No. 7218, pp. 18–21.
Meeting 21: Causal Pathways (Monday 18 April)
- Harden (2021, Chapter 7, pp. 130–150).
Meeting 22: Review (Wednesday 20 April)
Meeting 23: Second Exam (Sunday 24 April)
Section IV: Genetics and Social Policy
Meeting 24: Environmental Causes I (Monday 25 April)
- Harden (2021, Chapter 8, pp. 153–173).
Meeting 25: Environmental Causes II (Wednesday 27 April)
- Harden (2021, Chapter 9, pp. 174–192).
Meeting 26: Genetics and Responsibility I (Wednesday 4 May)
- Harden (2021, Chapter 10, pp. 193–209).
Meeting 27: Genetics and Responsibility II (Monday 9 May)
- Greenspan, Patricia S. 1993. “Free Will and the Genome Project”, in Philosophy & Public Affairs, Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 31–43.
- Greenspan, Patricia S. 2001. “Genes, Electrotransmitters, and Free Will”, in Wasserman and Wachbroit (Ed), Genetics and Criminal Behavior, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 243–258.
Meeting 28: Genetics and Human Difference (Wednesday 11 May)
- Harden (2021, Chapters 11-12, pp. 210–256).
Updated: 13 March 2022