Although in a way, the building of an autonomous philosophy of biology started with Darwin, the philosophy of biology as understood today took shape in the 1970s only. Until then, philosophers of science had focused almost exclusively on theoretical physics, which they regarded as coming closest to their ideal of a good science. Preoccupied with normative considerations (the so-called rational reconstruction of science), the dominant logical-empiricist tradition in the philosophy of science tended to downplay most of the issues of real concern to practising scientists, and criticized not only the (‚immature‘) social sciences and humanities but also biology for not living up to the physics exemplar. Most important, "the very essence of that which characterizes living organisms was left out in the analyses of the logicians and positivists — namely, a historical component in the form of an inherited genotype," as the evolutionist Ernst Mayr (1988) put it.
The winds of change came around 1970, when philosophers such as Morton Beckner, David Hull, Michael Ruse, and William Wimsatt started giving the attention to evolution that was long overdue. A new generation of philosophers came to occupy the scene, which includes Ronald Amundson, John Beatty, Robert Brandon, Richard Burian, Philip Kitcher, Elisabeth Lloyd, Alex Rosenberg, and Elliott Sober — who are quite knowledgeable about evolution as well as other areas of biology. At about the same time biologists such as Francisco Ayala, Michael Ghiselin, Richard Lewontin, John Maynard Smith, Ernst Mayr, Gunter Stent, and Edward O. Wilson began to write on philosophical issues in biology.
Today the philosophy of biology is thriving; it is fair to say that with the sole exception of the cognitive sciences, in no other area of philosophy of science do philosophers and scientists profitably cooperate to the extent that they do in the philosophy of biology.
Major issues include:
• emergence and reduction
• function and teleology
• natural selection
• levels and units of selection
• the status of species, speciation, and macroevolution
• sociobiology and other extensions of evolutionary theory to cultural evolution and ethics
Sterelny/Griffiths, Sex and Death, 1999
Is the history of life a series of accidents or a drama scripted by selfish genes? Is there an "essential" human nature, determined at birth or in a distant evolutionary past? What should we conserve — species, ecosystems, or something else? Informed answers to questions like these, critical to our understanding of ourselves and the world around us, require both a knowledge of biology and a philosophical framework within which to make sense of its findings. In this accessible introduction to philosophy of biology, Kim Sterelny and Paul E. Griffiths present both the science and the philosophical context necessary for a critical understanding of the most exciting debates shaping biology today. The authors, both of whom have published extensively in this field, describe the range of competing views — including their own — on these fascinating topics.
Callebaut, Taking the Naturalistic Turn, 1993
A Philosophical Browser's Paradise (Origins Research)
All the real work at scientific and philosophical meetings, one often hears, gets done in hall-ways between lectures or at restaurants in the evenings. Forget about the announced program. What you really take home will not be found on the official schedule. It's in the informal discussions.
This book, a well-edited series of conversations with leading philosophers and biologists seems to take as its point of departure the significance of the informal spoken insight. Although Plato's Socrates may not fully resemble the Socrates of history, we can be pretty certain that oral dialectic was the preferred method at the birth of Western philosophy.
Thus Werner Callebaut (a Belgian philosopher of science) wasn't falling very far from the Greek tree when he persuaded the likes of biolo-gists Richard Lewontin and Richard Levins or philosophers Michael Ruse and Elliott Sober to talk with him at length about their views on such subjects as the mind, reductionism or the creation/evolution controversy. Armed with a tape recorder, a good knowledge of the literature, and a list of questions, Callebaut originally obtained and used the interviews for a series of radio broadcasts. However, on reviewing the transcripts, he realized that the results could be edited together into something transcending his first intention. The participants were then allowed to revise or expand their remarks, making the final product partly actual transcript and partly later revisions (albeit conversational in tone). Callebaut also includes biographical sketches and photographs of each participant.
The book is a browser's dream, marked by a fair amount of gossip and blunt talk. It's clear that philosophers Bruno Latour and Philip Kitcher, for example, both at the University of California, San Diego, have little affection for each other's ideas. The topics on the table for all participants flow (somewhat loosely) from the "return of naturalism":
Naturalism as a philosophical movement claims that whatever exists or happens in the world is susceptible to explanation by natural scientific methods; it denies that there is or could be anything which lies in principle beyond the scope of scientific explanation (p.xv).
While naturalism of this sort may gladden the hearts of many readers of [Origins Research], it will bewilder or infuriate many others. For those readers, moving through this book is therefore like a visit to alien territory and quite useful for seeing what a philosopher means when he claims to be able to explain (for instance) how moral categories evolved, how our knowledge of the world has an evolutionary basis, or how the mind can be reduced to neurophysiology.
For the non-evolutionist it is remarkable how broadly evolutionary theory is seen (by these participants) as informing one or another aspect of scientific or philosophical knowledge. Remarkable, or perhaps frightening: how could a theory so plagued by difficulties (from the non-evolutionist's perspective) pass muster with otherwise very bright and skeptical thinkers?
The answer must lie with the power of the premise of naturalism. It is the Archidemean point on which the rest is moved. Reject naturalism, and the evolutionary understanding of the world is soon to follow. Retain naturalism, and evolution is indispensable.
Rosenberg, Instrumental Biology or the Disunity of Science, 1994
Ruse, Taking Darwin Seriously, 1986
Challenges the threadworn arguments as well as the new claims of creationism seeping into mainstream education, science, and philosophy, and reestablishes solid arguments supporting the science of Charles Darwin. Applying evolutionary biology to traditional philosophical problems, this volume establishes a naturalistic approach to our understanding of life's major problems. Ruse argues thoughtfully that to understand the problems of knowledge (epistemology) and of moral thought and behavior (ethics), we must know that we are the end-products of natural process of evolution rather than the special creation of a supernatural god. At the same time, he warns evolutionists who would fashion an atheistic secular religion from their science. Written in an easy style to interest the professional and the general reader, this book is a pillar of philosophy intended as a direct challenge to all those who would push creationism as a credible alternative to scientific evolution in public schools, universities, and as a general theory of public consumption.
Rosenberg, The Structure of Biological Science, 1985
Wilson, Species, 1999
"This is a fresh, well-conceived collection on one of the most persistent problems in the philosophy of biology — the species problem. Unlike most anthologies, but like many species, it is cohesive and integrated." (Robert N. Brandon)
The concept of species has played a central role in both evolutionary biology and the philosophy of biology, and has been the focus of a number of books in recent years. This book differs from other recent collections in two ways. It is more explicitly integrative and analytical, centering on issues of general significance such as pluralism and realism about species. It also draws on a broader range of disciplines and brings neglected cognitive, anthropological, and historical dimensions to philosophical debates over species.
The chapters are organized around five themes: unity, integration, and pluralism; species realism; historical dimensions; cognitive underpinnings; and practical import. The contributors include prominent researchers from anthropology, botany, developmental psychology, the philosophy of biology and science, protozoology, and zoology.
Contributors: Scott Atran, Richard Boyd, Kevin de Queiroz, John Dupré, Marc Ereshefsky, Paul E. Griffiths, David L. Hull, Frank C. Keil, Brent D. Mishler, David L. Nanney, Daniel C. Richardson, Kim Sterelny, Robet A. Wilson.
Hull/Ruse, Philosophy of Biology, 1998
Drawing on work of the past decade, this volume brings together articles from the philosophy, history, and sociology of science, and many other branches of the biological sciences. The volume delves into the latest theoretical controversies as well as burning questions of contemporary social importance. The issues considered include the nature of evolutionary theory, biology and ethics, the challenge from religion, and the social implications of biology today (in particular the Human Genome Project).
Sober, Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology (2nd ed.), 1994
There has been considerable and lively debate in philosophy of biology over the decade since the first edition of this anthology appeared. Changes and additions in the new edition reflect the ways in which the subject has broadened and deepened on several fronts; more than half of the chapters are new. In all, twenty-three selections take up fitness, function and teleology, adaptationism, units of selection, essentialism and population thinking, species, systematic philosophies, phylogenetic inference, reduction of Mendelian genetics to molecular biology, ethics and sociobiology, and cultural evolution and evolutionary epistemology.
"This book has no competition whatsoever. There is no anthology which even attempts to cover this ground.... It will, I believe, become the standard text." (Richard Boyd)
Ereshefsky, The Units of Evolution, 1992.
Ruse, What the Philosophy of Biology Is, 1989
Brandon/Burian, Genes, Organisms, and Populations, 1984
Mahner/Bunge, Foundations of Biophilosophy, 1997
Sober, Philosophy of Biology, 1993
Hull, Science as a Process, 1988.
Sober, The Nature of Selection (2nd ed.), 1993
An attempt at a definitive resolution of the philosophical questions surrounding the concept of "selection" and its role in evolutionary biology. In the process Sober, of necessity, delves deeply into general philosophical issues and ranges across most of evolutionary biology.
Biology and Philosophy (1985— )
(Quarterly; Kluwer.) Aimed at a broad readership, drawn from both the sciences and the humanities. Subscribes to no particular school of biology or philosophy, welcoming submissions from authors of all persuasions, and all disciplines.
(Francis & Taylor.) An international journal devoted to the historical development of the life sciences and of their social and epistemological implications. Also covers the broader philosophical concerns of biology and medicine. The main interest is modern western scientific thought, although it also includes any period in history of the life sciences (e.g., classical antiquity, the Middle Ages) and any cultural area (e.g., Chinese and Indian medicine). Aimed primarily at professional historians and philosophers, but also of interest to scientists and teachers.
Ludus Vitalis (1993— )
(2 issues annually.) Edited by the Centro de Estudios Filosóficos, Políticos y Sociales Vicente Lombardo Toledano de la Secretaría de Educación Pública; Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa; Universitat de les Illes Balears, and the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science (1970— )
Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences (19##— )
Brings together scholars from diverse disciplines, including the life sciences as well as history, philosophy, and social studies of science. ISHPSSB summer meetings are known for innovative, transdisciplinary sessions, and for fostering informal, co-operative exchanges and on-going collaborations.
The LSE became established as an international centre for methodology through the work of Karl Popper, Imre Lakatos, Lionel Robbins, James Durbin and others. Now that contemporary social, economic and political problems call for new techniques and more concerted interdisciplinary research, methodological issues have come to the fore again. The Centre was founded to promote interdisciplinary and interinstitutional cooperation in developing methodologies that meet these modern scientific demands. A generous anonymous donation allowed it to move into its own premises in Tymes Court in 1993.