Philosophy 2890:
Philosophy of Biology
Spring, 2011

Professor Joel Velasco

Class meets Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:10-11:25

Course syllabus

This course will examine a range of philosophical questions that arise within the study of evolutionary biology. We’ll discuss questions concerning fitness, the units of selection, systematics, and adaptationism. We’ll then look at Sociobiology and Evolutionary Psychology with an eye toward thinking about humans and human nature. We will then consider what connection, if any, there is between evolution and ethics. Finally, we’ll consider the nature of the history of life and whether there is any sense to be made of progress in evolution and to what extent the history of life is radically contingent.
Attendance in class and participation in discussion are required and will affect your grade.  In addition to class presentations there will be one short paper, one medium-length paper, and one longer final paper.
Office hours:
My office hours are Mon 11:00-12:00 and Thur 3:00-4:00, or by appointment, in 228 Goldwin Smith Hall.
Books available at the university bookstore:
Kim Sterelny and Paul Griffiths, Sex and Death: An Introduction to Philosophy of Biology, University of Chicago Press, 1999 (= S&D)

This is a tentative schedule/reading list:

Week 1 (1/25) - Introduction

Week 2 (2/1) - Evolutionary Theory

Week 3 (2/8) - The Gene's Eye View

Week 4 (2/15) - Reductionism and Genetics

***First homework assignment - due 3/3***

Week 5 (2/22) - Group Selection and Altruism

Week 6 (3/1) - What is an organism

Week 7 (3/8) - Classification and Higher Taxa

Week 8 (3/15) - What is a species?

***Second homework assignment - due 4/7***

Week 9 (3/29) - Adaptationism

Week 10 (4/5) - Sociobiology and Evolutionary Psychology

Week 11 (4/12) - Evolutionary Psychology and Sex

Week 12 (4/19) - Human Nature

***Final homework assignment - due 5/12***

Week 13 (4/26) - Evolution and Ethics

Week 14 (5/3) - Progress and Contingency