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TITLE Fundamental Questions in Biology

LEVEL I - Introductory Level


DEPARTMENT Centre for the Liberal Arts and Sciences

DESCRIPTION Philosophy of Biology is a fast-developing area within the philosophy of science and is gaining considerable importance in public debate because of aspects that have significant implications for wider social issues.

The first part of this Unit deals with general concepts related to the nature of Biology, such as the meaning of "life", the structure of the life sciences, the questions that biologists ask, biological function and teleology, reductionism.

The second part tackles more specific issues of Biology including aspects of evolutionary biology such as the species concept, the Units of selection, microevolution and macroevolution, adaptationism and genetic drift; evolutionary developmental biology; neurobiology and information in biology.

The third part focuses on aspects which have greater significance to social issues such as sociobiology and evolution of moral norms, evolutionary psychology, cultural evolution, creationism and intelligent design, eugenics, the concept of race, and the biological explanation of human sexuality.

Learning Outcomes:

1. Knowledge & Understanding:

By the end of the Unit the student will be able to:
- Familiarize themselves with the writings of leading contemporary philosophers of biology;
- Identify and understand the basic concepts and major issues in the philosophy of biology;
- Use biological reasoning to underpin their responses to social issues.

2. Skills:

By the end of the Unit the student will be able to:
- Appreciate, contrast and evaluate the different views and positions of various philosophers of biology;
- Debate philosophical issues related to the biological sciences in a clear and rigorous way;
- Develop their group presentation skills.

Main Text/s and any supplementary readings:

Preliminary Reading:

- Mayr, Ernst, 2004, What makes Biology Unique? Considerations on the autonomy of a Scientific Discipline, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Sterelny, Kim, 2007, Dawkins vs Gould. Survival of the Fittest, Cambridge: Icon Books.

Main Texts:

- Godfrey-Smith, Peter, 2014. Philosophy of Biology, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
- Mayr, Ernst, 1997. This is Biology. The Science of the Living World, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Supplementary Readings:

- Ayala, Francisco, J. and Robert Arp, 2010. Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Biology, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.
- Dupré, John, 2003. Darwin's Legacy. What Evolution means Today, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Hull, David L. and Michael Ruse, 2007, The Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of Biology, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
- Mayr, Ernst, 1988.Toward a New Philosophy of Biology. Harvard University Press.
- Rosenberg, Alex and Robert Arp, 2010. Philosophy of Biology. An Anthology, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell.
- Rosenberg, Alex and Daniel W. McShea, 2012. Philosophy of Biology. A Contemporary Introduction, New York, NY: Routledge.
- Ruse, Michael, 2006. Darwinism and its Discontents, New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
- Ruse, Michael, 2008. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Biology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Sterelny, Kim and Paul E. Griffiths, 1999. Sex and Death. An Introduction to Philosophy of Biology, Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

ADDITIONAL NOTES Pre-requisite: Although the study-unit is planned in a way that no prior training in Biology or Philosophy is required, basic knowledge of Evolutionary Biology is desirable. This could be obtained through some preliminary reading (see suggested texts).

STUDY-UNIT TYPE Group Learning

Assessment Component/s Resit Availability Weighting
Presentation (30 Minutes) 25%
Assignment 75%


The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the study-unit description above applies to the academic year 2017/8, if study-unit is available during this academic year, and may be subject to change in subsequent years.
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