History and Philosophy of Science 129:
Introduction to Philosophy of Biology
Fall, 2011

Professor Joel Velasco

Class meets Tuesdays and Thursdays, 14:30-15:55

This course will examine a range of philosophical questions that arise within the study of evolutionary biology. We’ll discuss creationism and intelligent design, questions concerning fitness, the units of selection, adaptationism, and systematics. Finally, we will examine the relevance of evolutionary theory to explaining features of human minds, behavior, and culture, and the relevance of evolutionary theory to ethical questions.
Office hours:
My office hours are Mon 11:00-12:00, or by appointment, in 13 Dabney Hall.
Books available at the university bookstore:
Elliott Sober, Philosophy of Biology, Westview Press, 2000 2nd edition (= Sober)

Evaluation: Grades for this course will be based upon class participation (15%), performance as a discussion leader (15%), and upon two papers (30% and 40%). All aspects of evaluation come under the provenance of the university’s honor code. A student must receive a passing grade on each of these components in order to pass the course.

Class Participation: Philosophy is a communal enterprise: the ability to make valuable oral contributions to philosophical discussions can be as important as the ability to write well. Moreover, since the written assignments will force the students to think carefully about very specific topics, participation in class discussion is an important way for students to demonstrate a broader competence with the material than is possible in the papers alone. Evaluation will be based upon the quality, not the quantity, of comments made during class. Students are encouraged to continue class discussions after the class is over, by meeting with me in person, or continuing the discussion over e-mail, or posting to the course listserve. Students who for any reason have difficulty speaking up in class are especially encouraged to pursue these options. It should go without saying that attendance is an absolutely essential component of class participation. Any student who has more than two absences from class will be required to do make-up work for the classes missed.

Electronic Devices: Students may have laptop computers, or other portable electronic devices, for the purpose of taking notes, and occasionally looking up material relevant to class discussion. However, there will be no internet-surfing, texting, tweeting, instant messaging, e-mailing, gaming, or other use of electronic devices not directly related to class. Also, please silence all phones and pagers before class starts.

Discussion Leaders: Every class will contain a combination of lecturing and discussion, but roughly speaking, background reading from our textbook will be required for Tuesday and I will lecture on this material on Tuesday. For Thursday, papers will be assigned and the class will be more discussion based. Each student will be a discussion leader for one of these classes (along with two other students). The schedule will be assigned during the second class meeting, on Thursday, September 29. Discussion leaders should make note of which parts of the reading material were particularly difficult or in need of further elaboration from the instructor. In addition, they should prepare a list of ‘talking points’ – questions, criticisms, and comments in order to facilitate class discussion. These must be prepared in the form of a handout. Copies of the list should be distributed via the class listserve at least 24 hours prior to the class meeting. Within 24 hours of the end of the discussion class, the discussion leaders should post a list of the most interesting or important responses made to the ‘talking points’ during class discussion.

Schedule of discussion leaders
Instructions for discussion leaders

Papers: Students will write two papers. The first, shorter paper should be approximately 1800 words or 6 typed, double-spaced pages. This paper will be due in class on Tuesday, November 3, and is worth 30% of the final grade. The longer paper should be approximately 2700 words, or 9 typed, double-spaced pages; it is worth 40%. This paper is due on Friday, December 9 at 5:00 P.M. Suggestions for paper topics will be distributed via the class listserve and the course website.

Special Accommodations: If you have a disability or personal circumstance that will require special accommodation, please do not hesitate to contact me.

This is a tentative schedule/reading list:

Week 1 (9/27) - Introduction

Week 2 (10/4) - Creationism and Intelligent Design

Week 3 (10/11) - Fitness

Week 4 (10/18) - Units of Selection

Week 5 (10/25) - Adaptationism

Week 6 (11/1) - Species and Systematics

***First paper assignment - due 11/3***

Week 7 (11/8) - Phylogenetic Inference

Week 8 (11/15) - Sociobiology and Evolutionary Psychology

Week 9 (11/22) - No Classes

Week 10 (11/29) - Evolution and Ethics and Cultural Evolution

Final Paper Due (12/09) 5:00 pm