This course will address a number of philosophical issues that arise within biology. No great prior expertise in biology will be assumed, but students who have little acquaintance with the subject would do well to read an introduction to evolutionary biology: John Maynard Smith’s The Theory of Evolution (1993 edition) or Mark Ridley’s Evolution would be suitable.
- Summative assessment: 1 x 2-hour examination (100%)
- Formative assessment: 1 x 2,500 word essay
Educational aims & objectives
The students will be introduced to and receive training in certain key ideas from the philosophy of biology. In particular, students will gain some or all of the following:
- An understanding of the standard problems in philosophy of biology.
- Familiarity with the conditions for evolution by natural selection, and in particular for the emergence of multicellularity, sex, and altruism.
- An understanding of natural and social kinds, and in particular species, genders, and races.
By the end of the module, the students will be able to demonstrate intellectual, transferable and practicable skills appropriate to a level-6 module and in particular will be able to demonstrate:
- Knowledge of the main issues in the philosophy of biology.
- The ability to analyse and resolve these issues.
- The ability to exercise their powers of intellectual criticism by critically commenting upon the views discussed.
one one-hour weekly lecture and one one-hour weekly seminar over ten weeks.
Suggested reading list
Indicative reading list
The main course textbook will be Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Philosophy of Biology. We will also cover various themes from Godfrey-Smith’s Darwinian Populations.
The following articles from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy bear directly on course topics.
- Allen ‘Teleological Notions in Biology’ Griffiths ‘The Distinction Between Innate and Acquired Characteristics’
- Okasha ‘Biological Altruism’
- Downes ‘Evolutionary Psychology’
- Ereshevsky ‘Species’
- Bird and Tobin ‘Natural Kinds’
- Mikkola ‘Feminist Perspectives on Sex and Gender’
- James ‘Race’
- Peter Godfrey-Smith Philosophy of Biology