Philosophy of Biology


Course Description

This course is a general survey of issues in the philosophy of biology. We begin with a quick and rough sketch of the historical overview of biology including Aristotle, Lamarck, Darwin, and the Modern Synthesis. We then discuss laws of nature and the question of whether biology has any laws. We give two proposed suggestions of laws in evolution: the Zero-Force Evolutionary Law and the Principle of Natural Selection and discuss their status. We next explore the problematic concept of ‘fitness’ and discuss how it fits into Darwinism. Fitness leads us to question what the relationship is between drift and selection and whether these can be teased apart in practice. Such concerns segue into questions about whether evolutionary theory is causal or merely a statistical artifact. This segues into our concluding topic of whether abstract accounts of evolution can be given. Must evolution only occur at one level or can it be extended to other levels and other disciplines?