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Attfield, Robin, Robin Attfield, Attfield, Kate. The Concept of ‘Gaia’
2016, eLS. electronic Encyclopedia of the Life Sciences
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Added by: Björn Freter, Contributed by: Robin Attfield

Abstract: The Gaia theory of James Lovelock proposes that the Earth is a self-regulating system, or super-organism, maintaining conditions hospitable to contemporary planetary biota. Objections to this theory, concerning its alleged untestability and circularity, are considered and countered. Favourable evidence includes Lovelock’s daisyworld model of a planet regulating its own temperatures and thus maintaining homeostasis, and his discoveries of actual regulatory mechanisms such as the biological generation of dimethyl sulphide, which removes sulphur from the oceans and seeds clouds whose albedo reduces solar radiation (a negative feedback mechanism). After some decades of scepticism, sections of the scientific community have partially endorsed Gaia theory, accepting that the Earth system behaves as if self-regulating. Whether or not this theory is acceptable in full, it has drawn attention to the need for preserving planetary biological cycles and for the planetary dimension to be incorporated in ethical decision-making, and thus for a planetary ethic.

Comment: This interdisciplinary survey of the Gaia hypothesis, its critics and its supporters, could be used in Philosophy of Science or Philosophy of Biology classes to clarify the concept of Gaia, which is often presented too vaguely by those who have not considered issues such as whether this hypothesis is falsifiable or not; it could also be used in Ethics classes because of its section on Gaian ethics. We show how Lovelock has devised indirect ways of testing this hypothesis (or better, the Gaia theory), how a critic (Kirchner) has presented it as either falsifiable but unsurprising or unfalsifiable and thus useless, and how a supporter, Tim Lenton has sought to explain how it can be reconciled with Darwinian evolution. Finally we show how elements of the theory have been endorsed by a scientific conference, but other aspects, such as the purposiveness of Gaia, were not endorsed.

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Cosmides, Leda, , John Tooby. Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer
1997, Center for Evolutionary Psychology.
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Added by: Simon Fokt, Contributed by: Patricia Rich

Abstract: The goal of research in evolutionary psychology is to discover and understand the design of the human mind.Evolutionary psychology is an approach to psychology, in which knowledge and principles from evolutionarybiology are put to use in research on the structure of the human mind. It is not an area of study, like vision,reasoning, or social behavior. It is a way of thinking about psychology that can be applied to any topic withinit.In this view, the mind is a set of information-processing machines that were designed by natural selection tosolve adaptive problems faced by our hunter-gatherer ancestors. This way of thinking about the brain, mind,and behavior is changing how scientists approach old topics, and opening up new ones. This chapter is aprimer on the concepts and arguments that animate it.

Comment: This is an enjoyable introduction to the influential evolutionary psychology research program. It touches on many issues of longstanding interest to philosophers, such as the roles of nature and nurture and the normativity of abstract reasoning. I have used it in philosophy of biology and philosophy of social science courses. For more advanced students, it can be read together with Elisabeth Lloyd’s paper ‘Evolutionary Psychology: The Burdens of Proof.’

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Humphreys, , . Suffering, Sentientism, and Sustainability: An Analysis of a Non-Anthropocentric Moral Framework for Climate Ethics
2020, Brian G. Henning, Zack Walsh (eds.), Climate Change Ethics and the Non-human World. Routledge Taylor Francis Group, 49-62
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Added by: Björn Freter, Contributed by: Rebekah Humphreys

Abstract: In the light of the current environmental crisis, different approaches to mitigating climate change have been put forward, some more plausible than others. However, despite problems with anthropocentric approaches to global warming (whether these be weak or strong versions of the approach), it seems that because of the largely anthropocentric outlook of the Western world, an internationally united approach to mitigating climate change will (perhaps inevitably) come from human-centred values. But what are the long-term implications of this? Such values need to be at the very least challenged if we are interested in providing justifiable and sustainable solutions to the current crisis. Indeed, this paper will analyse sentientism as an alternative environmental ethic stance and will discuss why it provides a more plausible approach than anthropocentric ones whilst recognising where it falls short.

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Humphreys, Rebekah , , . Biocentrism
2016, Encyclopedia of Global Bioethics, Springer
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Added by: Björn Freter, Contributed by: Rebekah Humphreys

Abstract: The orthodox approach to the environment and its inhabitants is deemed to be anthropocentric in that it recognises the moral standing of human beings alone, and as such other beings are given at the most indirect moral consideration when their interests conflict with the interests of humans. However, many global environmental problems and worldwide practices directly affect not just human beings but many other creatures too. In the light of this, the anthropocentric approach has been accused by some philosophers of being too narrowly focused on human interests to creditably account for the true extent of our moral obligations. This article provides a conceptual outline of biocentrism as an alternative approach to ethics; one which widens the moral scope to include all living beings as candidates deserving of moral consideration. The article also discusses how this approach might be applied to contemporary ethical issues which are international in their dimension, including environmental issues, as well as issues concerning our use of animals in worldwide human practices.

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Korsmeyer, Carolyn, , . Making Sense of Taste: Food and Philosophy
1999, Cornell University Press.
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Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir

Publisher’s Note: Taste, perhaps the most intimate of the five senses, has traditionally been considered beneath the concern of philosophy, too bound to the body, too personal and idiosyncratic. Yet, in addition to providing physical pleasure, eating and drinking bear symbolic and aesthetic value in human experience, and they continually inspire writers and artists.In Making Sense of Taste, Carolyn Korsmeyer explains how taste came to occupy so low a place in the hierarchy of senses and why it is deserving of greater philosophical respect and attention. Korsmeyer begins with the Greek thinkers who classified taste as an inferior, bodily sense; she then traces the parallels between notions of aesthetic and gustatory taste that were explored in the formation of modern aesthetic theories. She presents scientific views of how taste actually works and identifies multiple components of taste experiences.
Turning to taste’s objects?food and drink?she looks at the different meanings they convey in art and literature as well as in ordinary human life and proposes an approach to the aesthetic value of taste that recognizes the representational and expressive roles of food. Korsmeyer’s consideration of art encompasses works that employ food in contexts sacred and profane, that seek to whet the appetite and to keep it at bay; her selection of literary vignettes ranges from narratives of macabre devouring to stories of communities forged by shared eating.

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Lloyd, Elisabeth A., , . The structure and confirmation of evolutionary theory
1994, Princeton University Press.
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by: Carl Hoefer

Publisher’s Note: Traditionally a scientific theory is viewed as based on universal laws of nature that serve as axioms for logical deduction. In analyzing the logical structure of evolutionary biology, Elisabeth Lloyd argues that the semantic account is more appropriate and powerful. This book will be of interest to biologists and philosophers alike.

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Lynch, Kate E., , . Heritability and causal reasoning
2017, Biology & Philosophy 32: 25–49.
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Added by: Björn Freter, Contributed by: Hannah Rubin

Abstract: Gene–environment (G–E) covariance is the phenomenon whereby genetic differences bias variation in developmental environment, and is particularly problematic for assigning genetic and environmental causation in a heritability analysis. The interpretation of these cases has differed amongst biologists and philosophers, leading some to reject the utility of heritability estimates altogether. This paper examines the factors that influence causal reasoning when G–E covariance is present, leading to interpretive disagreement between scholars. It argues that the causal intuitions elicited are influenced by concepts of agency and blame-worthiness, and are intimately tied with the conceptual understanding of the phenotype under investigation. By considering a phenotype-specific approach, I provide an account as to why causal ascriptions can differ depending on the interpreter. Phenotypes like intelligence, which have been the primary focus of this debate, are more likely to spark disagreement for the interpretation of G–E covariance cases because the concept and ideas about its ‘normal development’ relatively ill-defined and are a subject of debate. I contend that philosophical disagreement about causal attributions in G–E covariance cases are in essence disagreements regarding how a phenotype should be defined and understood. This moves the debate from one of an ontological flavour concerning objective causal claims, to one concerning the conceptual, normative and semantic dependencies.

Comment: This paper discusses difficulties for determining whether traits like intelligence are heritable, drawing on philosophical work regarding causal intuitions. It’s accessible enough to use in a lower-level undergraduate course, but also generates good discussion in a graduate level course. It could be used to further a discussion about the nature of genes or in a discussion of philosophy of race/gender from a biological perspective.

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Millikan, Ruth, , . In Defense of Proper Functions
1989, Philosophy of Science, 56 (1989): 288-302.
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Added by: Jamie Collin, Contributed by:

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.

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Millikan, Ruth Garrett, , . Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories
1984, MIT Press.
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Added by: Clotilde Torregrossa, Contributed by: Juan R. Loaiza

Publisher’s Note: Beginning with a general theory of function applied to body organs, behaviors, customs, and both inner and outer representations, Ruth Millikan argues that the intentionality of language can be described without reference to speaker intentions and that an understanding of the intentionality of thought can and should be divorced from the problem of understanding consciousness. The results support a realist theory of truth and of universals, and open the way for a nonfoundationalist and nonholistic approach to epistemology.

Comment: It is one of the classic in philosophy of mind, philosophy of biology, and even philosophy of science.

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Millstein, Roberta, , . Natural Selection as a Population-Level Causal Process
2006, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57(4): 627-653.
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Added by: Jamie Collin, Contributed by:

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.

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Millstein, Roberta L., , . Probability in Biology: The Case of Fitness
2016,
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Added by: Barbara Cohn, Contributed by: Anya Plutynski

Abstract: I argue that the propensity interpretation of fitness, properly understood, not only solves the explanatory circularity problem and the mismatch problem, but can also withstand the Pandora’s box full of problems that have been thrown at it. Fitness is the propensity (i.e., probabilistic ability, based on heritable physical traits) for organisms or types of organisms to survive and reproduce in particular environments and in particular populations for a specified number of generations; if greater than one generation, ‘reproduction’ includes descendants of descendants. Fitness values can be described in terms of distributions of propensities to produce varying number of offspring and can be modeled for any number of generations using computer simulations, thus providing both predictive power and a means for comparing the fitness of different phenotypes. Fitness is a causal concept, most notably at the population level, where fitness differences are causally responsible for differences in reproductive success. Relative fitness is ultimately what matters for natural selection.

Comment: I use this in discussions of natural selection and probability in evolution.
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Mitchell, Sandra, , . Dimensions of scienctific law
2000, Philosophy of Science 67(2): 242-265.
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Added by: Laura Jimenez, Contributed by:

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.

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Okasha, Samir, , . Evolution and the levels of selection
2006, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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Added by: Laura Jimenez, Contributed by:

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.

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Plutynski, Anya, , . The rise and fall of the adaptive landscape?
2008, Biology and Philosophy 23 (5):605-623.
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Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Anya Plutynski

Abstract: The discussion of the adaptive landscape in the philosophical literature appears to be divided along the following lines. On the one hand, some claim that the adaptive landscape is either ‘uninterpretable’ or incoherent. On the other hand, some argue that the adaptive landscape has been an important heuristic, or tool in the service of explaining, as well as proposing and testing hypotheses about evolutionary change. This paper attempts to reconcile these two views.

Comment: I use this in my philosophy of biology class to discuss the use of metaphor and analogy in science.
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Richardson, S. Sarah, , . Sex Itself: The Search for Male and Female in the Human Genome
2013, The University of Chicago Press.
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Added by: Andrea Blomqvist, Contributed by: Isela

Publisher’s Note: Human genomes are 99.9 percent identical—with one prominent exception. Instead of a matching pair of X chromosomes, men carry a single X, coupled with a tiny chromosome called the Y. Tracking the emergence of a new and distinctive way of thinking about sex represented by the unalterable, simple, and visually compelling binary of the X and Y chromosomes, Sex Itself examines the interaction between cultural gender norms and genetic theories of sex from the beginning of the twentieth century to the present, postgenomic age.
Using methods from history, philosophy, and gender studies of science, Sarah S. Richardson uncovers how gender has helped to shape the research practices, questions asked, theories and models, and descriptive language used in sex chromosome research. From the earliest theories of chromosomal sex determination, to the mid-century hypothesis of the aggressive XYY supermale, to the debate about Y chromosome degeneration, to the recent claim that male and female genomes are more different than those of humans and chimpanzees, Richardson shows how cultural gender conceptions influence the genetic science of sex.

Richardson shows how sexual science of the past continues to resonate, in ways both subtle and explicit, in contemporary research on the genetics of sex and gender. With the completion of the Human Genome Project, genes and chromosomes are moving to the center of the biology of sex. Sex Itself offers a compelling argument for the importance of ongoing critical dialogue on how cultural conceptions of gender operate within the science of sex.

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