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Millikan, Ruth, and . In Defense of Proper Functions

1989, Philosophy of Science, 56 (1989): 288-302.

Abstract: I defend the historical definition of “function” originally given in my Language, Thought and Other Biological Categories (1984a). The definition was not offered in the spirit of conceptual analysis but is more akin to a theoretical definition of “function”. A major theme is that nonhistorical analyses of “function” fail to deal adequately with items that are not capable of performing their functions.

Comment: This paper is something of a classic, and would be useful in a course on philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, philosophy of mind or philosophy of language. Though the paper is not technical, it is not easy and would be most suitable for advanced undergraduate or graduate courses. The paper also functions as a good example of an important attempt to naturalise a central normative notion.

Millstein, Roberta, and . Natural Selection as a Population-Level Causal Process

2006, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57(4): 627-653.

Abstract: Recent discussions in the philosophy of biology have brought into question some fundamental assumptions regarding evolutionary processes, natural selection in particular. Some authors argue that natural selection is nothing but a population-level, statistical consequence of lower-level events (Matthen and Ariew [2002]; Walsh et al. [2002]). On this view, natural selection itself does not involve forces. Other authors reject this purely statistical, population-level account for an individual-level, causal account of natural selection (Bouchard and Rosenberg [2004]). I argue that each of these positions is right in one way, but wrong in another; natural selection indeed takes place at the level of populations, but it is a causal process nonetheless.

Comment: This would be useful in a course on the philosophy of science, the philosophy of biology, or in a section on causation in a course on metaphysics. The paper would be appropriate for undergraduate or graduate-level courses. It is quite long.

Mitchell, Sandra, and . Dimensions of scienctific law

2000, Philosophy of Science 67(2): 242-265.

Abstract: Biological knowledge does not fit the image of science that philosophers have developed. Many argue that biology has no laws. Here I criticize standard normative accounts of law and defend an alternative, pragmatic approach. I argue that a multidimensional conceptual framework should replace the standard dichotomous law/ accident distinction in order to display important differences in the kinds of causal structure found in nature and the corresponding scientific representations of those structures. To this end I explore the dimensions of stability, strength, and degree of abstraction that characterize the variety of scientific knowledge claims found in biology and other sciences.

Comment: Really interesting paper that examines the nature of scientific laws by focusing on the case of laws in biology. It would be recommendable to read Carnap's analysis of the acceptance of different linguistic forms within science before reading this article. Could be used as a paper for a senior undergraduate course or for postgraduate courses in Philosophy of Science.

Okasha, Samir, and . Evolution and the levels of selection

2006, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Publisher’s Note: Does natural selection act primarily on individual organisms, on groups, on genes, or on whole species? This book provides a comprehensive analysis of the long-standing controversy in evolutionary biology over the levels of selection, focusing on conceptual, philosophical, and foundational questions. In the first half of the book, a systematic framework is developed for thinking about natural selection acting at multiple levels of the biological hierarchy; the framework is then used to help resolve outstanding issues. Considerable attention is paid to the concept of causality as it relates to the levels of selection, particularly the idea that natural selection at one hierarchical level can have effects that ‘filter’ up or down to other levels. Full account is taken of the recent biological literature on ‘major evolutionary transitions’ and the recent resurgence of interest in multi-level selection theory among biologists. Other biological topics discussed include Price’s equation, kin and group selection, the gene’s eye view, evolutionary game theory, selfish genetic elements, species and clade selection, and the evolution of individuality. Philosophical topics discussed include reductionism and holism, causation and correlation, the nature of hierarchical organization, and realism and pluralism about the levels of selection.

Comment: This book integrates the biological and philosophical discussions and offers in-depth analysis of multi-level selection theory. The author is fully informed by the latest work in evolutionary biology. Recommended for postgraduate courses in philosophy of science focusing in philosophy of biology.

Schrader-Frechette, Kristin, and . Individualism, Holism, and Environmental Ethics

1996, Ethics and the Environment, 1 (1): 55-69.

Abstract: Neoclassical economists have been telling us for years that if we behave in egoistic, individualistic ways, the invisible hand of the market will guide us to efficient and sustainable futures. Many contemporary Greens also have been assuring us that if we behave in holistic ways, the invisible hand of ecology will guide us to health and sustainable futures. This essay argues that neither individualism nor holism will provide environmental sustainability. There is no invisible hand, either in economics or in ecology. Humans have no guaranteed tenure in the biosphere. Likewise there is no philosophical quick fix for environmental problems, either through the ethical individualism of Feinberg, Frankena, and Regan, or through the ecological holism of Callicott and Leopold. The correct path is more complex and tortuous than either of these ways. The essay argues that the best way to reach a sustainable environmental future probably is through a middle path best described as “hierarchical holism.”.

Comment: This text intervenes in the debate over holism and individualism in environmental ethics--specifically, as it concerns questions of environmental protection and conservation. It would fit well in a course on environmental ethics that discusses questions of either the metaphysics of nature or the nature of value.