Philosophy 167A/267A – Philosophy of Biology

Autumn, 2008

 Joel Velasco


This course will examine a range of philosophical questions concerning the theory of evolution.  We’ll begin with the debate between evolutionary theory and creationism and intelligent design.  Then we’ll discuss questions concerning fitness, adaptationism, the units of selection, systematics, species, race, sociobiology, and evolutionary ethics. 


Attendance in class and participation in discussion, are required and will affect your grade.  There will be one in-class exam, one short paper (1000-1500 words on a topic to be assigned) and a final exam in the course.  Students registered for 267A will have a research paper due at the end of class rather than taking the final exam.

Office Hours:

My office hours are Tue 2:30-4:30, or by appointment, in 92H in building 90 in the main quad.

Books available at the University Bookstore:

Elliott Sober, Philosophy of Biology, Westview Press, 2nd edition (= PB).

Elliott Sober (ed.), Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology, MIT Press, 3rd edition. (= CI).

Schedule of Readings and Assignments




Readings and Assignments




PB ch1


9/25, 9/30

Creationism and Intelligent Design

Paley, Sober IBE, PB ch2, Behe, Sober WW




PB ch 3, Mills and Beatty in CI, Sober in CI, Ernst and Ariew


10/9 10/14,16 

Units of Selection

PB ch 4, Williams in CI, DS Wilson in CI,  Lewontin, Okasha, Muir and Craig, Wilson and Wilson




In-Class Exam




PB ch 5; Gould and Lewontin, Maynard Smith in CI


10/30, 11/4


PB ch 6, de Quieroz, Dupré, O’hara, O’hara







Population Thinking

PB ch 6Mayr in CI, Sober in CI






11/13, 18


PB ch 6; Hull in CI, Ereshefsky, Mishler and Brandon, Baum and Donoghue in CI




Appiah in CI, Andreasen in CI, Kaplan and Pigliucci



Sociobiology and

Evolutionary Ethics

PB ch 7; Ruse and EO Wilson and Kitcher in CI


 More detailed reading list:


Week 1:

   9/23: Introduction to the class - what is evolutionary theory:

         Required readings:  PB chap 1

         Optional readings:   Dobzhansky, Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution

                                       Sober, Sex ratio theory - ancient and modern

                                       Darwin, Chapters 3,4 (On natural selection)


    9/25: Probability theory and Paley's Design argument

         Required readings:  Sober, An introduction to Bayesian Epistemology (problem with fonts?)

                                       Paley, Chap 1

                                       PB chap 2

        Optional readings:    Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion

Week 2:

   9/30: Intelligent Design

         Required readings: Behe, Molecular Machines  (here is an older version that has the pictures referred to plus

                                                                                  some citation notes)

                                      Sober, What’s wrong with ID

        Optional readings:   Nagel, Public education and intelligent design

                                      Sober, The Design Argument

                                      Behe,  irreducible complexity - obstacle to Darwinian evolution

   10/2: Fitness

       Required readings:   PB chap 3

                                      Mills and Beatty, The propensity interpretation of fitness (CI)

        Optional readings:   Darwin, Chapters 3,4 (On natural selection)

                                      Bethell, Darwin's Mistake

                                      Gould, Darwin's untimely burial

                                      Beatty and Finsen, Rethinking the Propensity Interpretation of Fitness

                                      Hajek, Interpretations of Probability (from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Week 3:

   10/7: Fitness (continued)

      Required readings:    Sober, Two faces of fitness (CI)

                                      Ernst and Ariew, What fitness ain’t

       Optional readings:   Ariew and Lewontin, The Confusions of Fitness


   10/9: Units of Selection           

          Required readings: PB chap 4

                                      Lewontin, The Units of Selection

        Optional readings:   Axelrod and Hamilton, The evolution of cooperation


Week 4:

   10/14: Units of Selection (continued)

         Required readings: Williams, Excerpts from Adaptation and Natural Selection (CI)

                                      Wilson, Levels of Selection: An Alternative to individualism in biology and the human        

                                                  sciences (CI)

        Optional readings:   Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (chap 1)

                                      Hull, Individuality and selection


   10/16: Units of Selection (continued)

       Required readings:   Wilson and Wilson, Rethinking the foundations of Sociobiology

                                      Okasha, Recent work on units of selection

                                      Muir and Craig, Improving animal well-being through genetic selection


Week 5:

   10/21: IN CLASS EXAM

   10/23: Adaptationism

       Required readings:   PB chap 5

        Optional readings:   Maynard Smith and Price, The Logic of Animal Conflict

                                      Godfrey Smith, Three kinds of adaptationism


Week 6:

   10/28 Adaptationism (continued)

         Required readings: Gould and Lewontin, The spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian  Paradigm: A

                                            critique of the Adaptationist programme (CI)

                                      Maynard Smith, Optimization theory in evolution (CI)

        Optional readings:   Sarkar, Maynard Smith, optimization and evolution


   10/30: Systematics

       Required readings:   PB chap 6

                                      O'Hara, Homage to Clio, or, toward an historical philosophy for evolutionary biology

                                      O'Hara, Population thinking and Tree Thinking in systematics

                                      Baum et al., The Tree-Thinking Challenge

       Optional readings:    Baum et al., Tree-Thinking Challenge supplements (two tests with    



Week 7:

   11/4: Systematics (continued)

         Required readings: de Queiroz, Systematics and the Darwinian Revolution

                                       Dupré, Natural Kinds and Biological Taxa

        Optional readings:   Hennig, Phylogenetic Systematics (defending cladistic classification)

                                      Sokal, The Continuing Search for Order (phenetic classification)

                                      Mayr, Biological Classification: Toward a Synthesis of Opposing Methodologies        

                                                (evolutionary classification)

                                      Hull, Contemporary Systematic Philosophies (a survey of the three major schools)


   11/6: NO CLASS


Week 8:

11/11: Population Thinking

         Required readings: Mayr, Typological versus population thinking (CI)

                                      Sober, Evolution, population thinking, and Essentialism (CI)

                                      reread PB section 6.1

        Optional readings:   


11/13: PAPER DUE

11/13: Species

       Required readings:  Hull, A Matter of Individuality (CI)

                                     Mishler and Brandon, Individuality, Pluralism, and the Phylogenetic Species Concept

        Optional readings: 

Week 9:

   11/18: Species (continued)

         Required readings: Baum and Donoghue, Choosing Among Alternative "Phylogenetic Species Concepts" (CI)

                                      Ereshefsky, Eliminative Pluralism

        Optional readings:   Devitt, Resurrecting Biological Essentialism

                                      Velasco, Species Concepts Should Not Conflict With Evolutionary History, but Often Do

                                      Velasco, When Monophyly is not Enough: Exclusivity as the key to defining a phylogenetic species concept

   11/20: Race

       Required readings: Appiah, Why There Are No Human Races (CI)

                                    Andreasen, A New Perspective on the Race Debate (CI)

                                    Kaplan and Pigliucci, On the Concept of Biological Race and its Applicability to Humans

        Optional readings: Andreasen, The Cladistic Concept of Race - a Defense

                                    Andreasen, The Meaning of 'Race': Folk Conceptions and the New Biology of Race

                                    Rosenberg et al. (including Marc Feldman), Genetic Structure of Human Populations

                                    Kitcher, The Future of Race

                                    Lorusso and Boniolo, Clustering humans

 11/25 and 11/27 – no class, Thanksgiving week


Week 10:

   12/2: Sociobiology

         Required readings: PB chap 7

                                      Ruse and Wilson, Moral Philosophy as Applied Science (CI)

                                      Kitcher, Four Ways of "Biologicizing" Ethics (CI)

        Optional readings:   Ayala, What the Biological Sciences Can and Cannot Contribute to Ethics

                                      Ruse, The Biological Sciences Can Act as a Ground for Ethics


   12/4: Evolution and Ethics

       Required readings:  



Full list of required reading sources (in the order presented in class):


William Paley, Natural Theology, chapter 1.

Michael Behe, “Molecular Machines” Cosmic Pursuit 1998 1:27-35

Elliott Sober, “Introduction to Bayesian Epistemology” (IBE) unpublished (available at: 


Elliott Sober, “What's wrong with Intelligent Design”, (WW) Quarterly Review of Biology, 2007


Zach Ernst and Andrew Ariew, "What Fitness Ain't" (unpublished) (available at                


Richard Lewontin, “The Units of Selection.”  Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 1970,  1: 1-18

Samir Okasha, "Recent Work on the Levels of Selection Problem" Human Nature Review, 2003,  3: 349-356

Muir and Craig, “Improving Animal Well-Being through Genetic Selection” Poultry Science

1998: 77: 1781-1788

David Sloan Wilson and E.O. Wilson “Rethinking the Foundations of Sociobiology” Quarterly

Review of Biology 2007 82: 327-348

Robert O'Hara – "Population thinking and Tree Thinking in systematics", Zoologica Scripta 1997, 26: 323-329

Robert O’Hara - "Homage to Clio, or, toward an historical philosophy for evolutionary biology", Systematic    

            Zoology 1988, 37: 142-155

Kevin de Queiroz, “Systematics and the Darwinian Revolution”, Philosophy of Science 1988


 John Dupré, “Natural Kinds and Biological Taxa”, Philosophical Review, 1981, 90: 66-91

Marc Ereshefsky, “Eliminative Pluralism”, Philosophy of Science 59: 671-690

Brent Mishler and Robert Brandon "Individuality, pluralism, and the phylogenetic species concept", Biology and

            Philosophy 1987 2: 397-414

Jonathan Kaplan and Massimo Pigliucci "On the Concept of Biological Race and its Applicability to Humans",

            Philosophy of Science 2003, 70: S1161-1172