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Philosophy of Biology

Philosophy of Biology

Peter Godfrey-Smith
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Philosophy of Biology
    Book Description:

    This is a concise, comprehensive, and accessible introduction to the philosophy of biology written by a leading authority on the subject. Geared to philosophers, biologists, and students of both, the book provides sophisticated and innovative coverage of the central topics and many of the latest developments in the field. Emphasizing connections between biological theories and other areas of philosophy, and carefully explaining both philosophical and biological terms, Peter Godfrey-Smith discusses the relation between philosophy and science; examines the role of laws, mechanistic explanation, and idealized models in biological theories; describes evolution by natural selection; and assesses attempts to extend Darwin's mechanism to explain changes in ideas, culture, and other phenomena. Further topics include functions and teleology, individuality and organisms, species, the tree of life, and human nature. The book closes with detailed, cutting-edge treatments of the evolution of cooperation, of information in biology, and of the role of communication in living systems at all scales.

    Authoritative and up-to-date, this is an essential guide for anyone interested in the important philosophical issues raised by the biological sciences.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5044-0
    Subjects: Philosophy, General Science, Biological Sciences

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER ONE Philosophy and Biology
    (pp. 1-10)

    In working out how philosophy and biology are related, and what the philosophyofbiology might be, much depends on general questions about the nature of philosophy and what it aims to achieve. The best one-sentence summary of what philosophy is up to was given by Wilfrid Sellars in 1962: philosophy is concerned with “how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.” Philosophy aims at an overall picture of what the world is like and how we fit into it.

    Science, too, tries to work out how things...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Laws, Mechanisms, and Models
    (pp. 11-27)

    Looking at biology from a philosophical point of view, one of the first things people notice is that there is apparently not much role for scientificlaws. The image of science as a search for the laws governing the natural world is an old and influential one, and many philosophers have held that the investigation of laws is central to any genuine scientific field (Carnap 1966, Hempel 1966). The laws of physics may be basic, but each science tries to find its own laws—laws present in the systems it studies. Perhaps biology is just a cataloguing of the world’s...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Evolution and Natural Selection
    (pp. 28-49)

    A large proportion of the philosophy of biology is about evolutionary theory, as this part of biology unifies much of the rest, has a great deal to say about our place in the universe, and gives rise to many puzzles. Evolutionary change occurs at several scales. A standard way this is recognized is with a distinction betweenmicroevolutionandmacroevolution. Roughly, microevolution is change within a single species, and macroevolution is change in a collection of these units—a collection of species. This terminology makes the divide sound sharp, but rather than a situation where there are two distinct levels...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Adaptation, Construction, Function
    (pp. 50-65)

    Some scientific theories bear directly on the place of humans in the universe’s total network of causes and effects. Clear examples include materialist and determinist views, and their rivals. Other theories do it in less obvious ways. They might bear on whether we are here for a reason or by accident, or on whether our lives have a purpose over and above what we decide it to be. More subtly still, they can bear on whether our activities (perhaps as humans, perhaps as living things) are fundamentallyreactive, responding to patterns and demands that originate outside us, or whether we,...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Individuals
    (pp. 66-80)

    In the 1961 science fiction novelSolaris, by Stanislaw Lem, astronauts explore a planet where life exists, but does not seem to be divided up into discrete individuals. Or perhaps the oceanic planet is one big living individual. On earth, in contrast, living things seem to be conspicuously bounded, marked off from one another, and very numerous. In fact, if we think back to how the world would have looked in prehistoric times, living organisms would have been some of themostclearly bounded and easily counted objects, especially before people began making artifacts.

    The obviousness, distinctive behaviors, and practical...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Genes
    (pp. 81-99)

    The first chapter gave an overview of some of the history of biology, and this chapter begins with a closer look at one area, genetics. The history feeds directly into a central issue, the question of what genesare. The following section looks at what genesdo, and the last looks at their role in evolutionary processes.

    In the 1850s and 1860s the monk Gregor Mendel did a series of experiments in plant breeding that led him to the postulation of inherited “factors” affecting traits of organisms. One experiment began with two lines of pea plants, a line that produced...

  10. CHAPTER 7 Species and the Tree of Life
    (pp. 100-119)

    Recognizing “kinds” of some sort is ubiquitous, perhaps inevitable, in thought and description. In the case of living things,specieshave long seemed particularly important; a species seems to be the basickind of organismthat something is. Some philosophical problems with species come from general questions about what it is to find—or invent—kinds and categories in nature. Others come from the meeting between some intuitive ways of thinking about species and the view of the living world we get from evolutionary biology.

    A complete view of species includes two parts. One is a view of thegrouping...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Evolution and Social Behavior
    (pp. 120-143)

    This chapter is about social behavior, especially cooperation, altruism, and their relatives. These behaviors have great importance in human life, and they also pose problems for evolutionary explanation. If evolution is a reproductive competition, how can organisms evolve a tendency to give resources away, or to make sacrifices for others?

    As theories have developed, it has become apparent that these behaviors play a multifaceted role: first as aspects of the social life of animals with complex behaviors like ourselves, second as features of interactionswithinorganisms—between cells and between genes, for example—and also in symbiotic associations that make...

  12. CHAPTER NINE Information
    (pp. 144-158)

    In his bookNatural Selection(1992), George Williams claimed that there are two “domains” in which biological change occurs. One is material and the other is “codical,” a domain of information. In evolutionary processes information is created, persists, proliferates, and is lost.

    Initially it seems that information exists only where there is something like communication or thinking going on, and although some parts of biology cover these phenomena, most do not. However, over the past half century biology has become drenched in informational terminology and theoretical ideas. Genetics is about coding, translation, and editing. In developmental biology, chemical gradients provide...

  13. References
    (pp. 159-178)
  14. Index
    (pp. 179-188)