Philosophy 464: Philosophy of Biology

Instructor: Christopher Stephens
Section: 002
Term: 2
Meets: Tuesdays & Thursdays 9:30-11:00am

In this course we will focus primarily on philosophical issues that arise in the context of evolutionary theory, with an emphasis in the final part on debates about human nature. We will begin with the debate between creationism and evolutionism both in its historical and contemporary context. The central philosophical questions in this part of the course will be: what makes a theory or hypothesis scientific? How does evidence confirm or disconfirm a scientific theory?

In the second part of the course, we’ll look at a number of conceptual and methodological debates within evolutionary theory. Biologists have been engaged in heated debates over questions such as: what is a species? How powerful a force is natural selection? At what level (or levels) – gene, individual or group – does natural selection act? We will read essays by both biologists and philosophers who attempt to shed light on these questions.

In the third (largest) part of the course, we’ll focus on the extent to which evolution undermines or supports the idea of a human nature. Is there such a thing as human nature? Is it a result of genes or environment? Is it changeable? To what extent are categories and kinds such as sex, gender and race products of our biology and to what extent are they social constructs?

Note: This is not a course in ethical issues raised by biotechnology or environmental ethics. For those interested in such a course, Phil 433 or Phil 435 would be more appropriate.

Click here for a PDF version of the course syllabus.

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