Lecture1: Introduction to Philosophy of Biology


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Lecture1: Introduction to Philosophy of Biology

  1. 1. Philosophy of Biology Overview of the course and subject
  2. 2. Why Biology? <ul><li>Biology has interesting questions: </li></ul><ul><li>The nature of Genes, Species, Life itself </li></ul><ul><li>What are functions, goals and purposes? </li></ul><ul><li>Biology is the science that will most affect public polity in the future </li></ul><ul><li>Medical arguments rely on our biology </li></ul><ul><li>Medical research relies on our shared evolutionary history </li></ul>
  3. 3. Why Philosophy <ul><li>Questions that can be asked: </li></ul><ul><li>Is biology a science? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Are there laws? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Is biology just physics? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What is classification in biology? </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What is a biological explanation? </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Is there a human nature? </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Moral, ethical and social implications </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>What is the human mind like? </li></ul></ul>
  4. 4. Why Evolution? <ul><li>Dobzhansky: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” Is this true? </li></ul><ul><li>All biological disciplines can be related to evolution </li></ul><ul><li>All problems of biology occur in evolutionary biology </li></ul><ul><li>It’s interesting in itself </li></ul>
  5. 5. Some questions that evolution addresses <ul><li>How does it function? </li></ul><ul><li>Why did it come to be? </li></ul><ul><li>Why don’t other things do it? </li></ul><ul><li>Tinbergen’s Four Questions in ethology </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Mechanism </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Selective advantage </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ontogeny </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Phylogeny </li></ul></ul>
  6. 6. Evolutionary explanations <ul><li>Proximate explanations - why this organism does X </li></ul><ul><li>Ultimate explanations - why X is widespread in a population </li></ul>
  7. 7. Evolution in biology Historical Empirical Experimental Recent Observational Ancient Neontology Paleontology
  8. 8. Biology and Human Nature <ul><li>3 Key Philosophical Questions: </li></ul><ul><li>What is biological determinism? Is it true? </li></ul><ul><li>What is the relations between biology and the social sciences, political philosophy and ethics? </li></ul><ul><li>What is the relation between science and society? What is it for science to be “objective”? </li></ul><ul><li>We examine these questions in relation to evolutionary theory. Alternatives: neuropsychology, human genome project, etc. </li></ul>
  9. 9. Biological Determinism <ul><li>“ We used to think our fate was in our stars. Now we know, in large measure, our fate is in our genes.” - James Watson. </li></ul><ul><li>Bio det: Important features of human psychology, behavior, or society are “fixed” by human biology. </li></ul><ul><li>Social det: biology sets broad outer constraints only, society determines which of the remaining options will be realized. (Positions between these poles) </li></ul><ul><li>Dispute between those who think evolution supports moderate determinism & those who think it challenges any conception of “nature” that contrasts sharply with nurture. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Relation between Biology and Social Sciences? <ul><li>Complementary: (a) different domains; bio for the invariant, SS for the variable (c.f. evol psych). (b) different levels of explanation (c.f. physics, chemistry). </li></ul><ul><li>Bio replaces SS (implausible). </li></ul><ul><li>Bio substantially constrains SS; rules our contested SS hypotheses: e.g. selfishness and economic modelling; gender and political theory. Can get surprising SS results. </li></ul><ul><li>Bio weakly constrains SS (controversial?). </li></ul>
  11. 11. Science and Society <ul><li>Popular conception of objectivity: a scientist is objective to the extent that they approach a topic without presuppositions (“open mind”). </li></ul><ul><li>Science is self-correcting: weeds out ideological distortions in the long run. </li></ul><ul><li>1 & 2 are false: good scientific method relies on background beliefs. Scientific method is truth conducive if enough of these are true enough. No procedural way to insulate inquiry from ideological influence. “Correction” is externally driven. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Example: Altruism <ul><li>1970’s sociobiologists argued human altruism evolved through kin-selection & is thus limited and linked to xenophobia. If true bio substantively constrains SS. Reasons for skepticism: </li></ul><ul><li>Altruism in the strict genetic sense: An act is altruistic [g] if it involves sacrificing a fitness on the part of one organism in exchange for increased fitness on the part of a conspecific. </li></ul><ul><li>Psychological Altruism: An act is altruistic [p] if directly motivated by concern for the well-being of another. </li></ul>
  13. 13. Altruism, cont <ul><li>Question: why suppose altruism [p] is altruistic [g] ? </li></ul><ul><li>Intentional metaphors: </li></ul><ul><li>The bittern has barred markings in order to escape predation </li></ul><ul><li>Humans are altruistic in order to benefit kin </li></ul><ul><li>2 can look like it is ascribing a psychological motive, but it is summarizing a putative evolutionary explanation. </li></ul><ul><li>Evaluation of sociobiology:Are these explanations good? Why or why not? </li></ul>
  14. 14. Housekeeping <ul><li>Plagiarism is a Very Bad Thing </li></ul><ul><li>Two essays or three? Requirements depend on your enrollment:see syllabus. </li></ul><ul><li>Tutorials: sign up at HPS. You must sign up for a tutorial. </li></ul>