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||567 West Yangsi Road, Room N401||Mondays and Wednesdays, 9:45am to 11:00am|
|Brad Weslakeemail@example.com||567 West Yangsi Road, Room W826||By appointment|
This class is an introduction to philosophy of biology with a focus on causation and explanation in evolutionary theory. 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 22 February|
|First Paper:||Friday 31 March|
|Second Exam:||Sunday 23 April|
|Second Paper:||Friday 12 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 Students who have been excessively absent will be considered to have unofficially withdrawn and will be given a final grade of F.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 30 January)
- 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 1 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 6 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 8 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 13 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 15 February)
- Godfrey-Smith (2009, §§3.4–3.6).
Meeting 7: Review (Monday 20 February)
Meeting 8: First Exam (Wednesday 22 February)
Section II: Individuals, Collectives, Levels and Transitions
Meeting 9: Individuals, Reproduction and Collectives (Monday 27 February)
- 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 1 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 6 March)
- Sober and Wilson (1998, pp. 35–54).
Meeting 12: Two Kinds of Group Selection (Wednesday 8 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 13 March)
- Godfrey-Smith (2009, §§6.1–6.2).
Meeting 14: Major Evolutionary Transitions (Wednesday 15 March)
- Godfrey-Smith (2009, §6.3).
Section III: Against Enhancement
Meeting 15: (Monday 20 March)
- Sandel, Michael J. 2007. The Case against Perfection: Ethics in the Age of Genetic Engineering, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, Chapter 1.
Meeting 16: (Wednesday 22 March)
- Sandel (2007, Chapter 2).
Meeting 17: (Monday 27 March)
- Sandel (2007, Chapter 3).
Meeting 18: (Wednesday 29 March)
- Sandel (2007, Chapter 4).
Meeting 19: (Monday 10 April)
- Sandel (2007, Chapter 5).
Section IV: For Enhancement
Meeting 20: (Wednesday 12 April)
- Buchanan, Allen. 2011. Better than Human: The Promise and Perils of Enhancing Ourselves, Oxford University Press, Oxford, Chapter 1.
Meeting 21: (Monday 17 April)
- Buchanan (2011, Chapter 2).
Meeting 22: Review (Wednesday 19 April)
Meeting 23: Second Exam (Sunday 23 April)
Meeting 24: (Monday 24 April)
- Buchanan (2011, Chapter 3).
Meeting 25: (Wednesday 26 April)
- Buchanan (2011, Chapter 4).
Meeting 26: (Wednesday 3 May)
- Buchanan (2011, Chapter 5).
Meeting 27: (Monday 8 May)
- Buchanan (2011, Chapter 6).
Meeting 28: (Wednesday 10 May)
- Buchanan (2011, Chapter 7).
Updated: 18 March 2023