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PPR.304: Themes in the Philosophy of the Sciences

Tutor: Brian Garvey
Term: Michaelmas

Course Description

 The theme this year is “Darwinism and Philosophy”
The module will look at philosophical issues that arise out of Darwin’s theory of evolution. These include questions about how best to understand the theory of evolution, and questions about what evolution implies for our view of the world, and in particular of ourselves. The course breaks down into three broad areas:
•   Different ways to understand the theory of evolution, e.g. Is evolution, as some would have us believe, all about genes? Is natural selection the only important factor in evolution?
•   Conceptual issues relating to biology, e.g. How do we define ‘function’? Is there one right way to classify living things?
•  Implications of Darwinism for understanding human nature, e.g. Does the fact that we have evolved affect how we should see human nature? Why are evolutionary theories of human nature so controversial? Does Darwinism have any implications for moral questions?

Learning Outcomes:

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:
•  Demonstrate an understanding and ability to discuss key philosophical issues that arise from the theory of evolution
•  Demonstrate an ability to see what the theory of evolution does and does not imply for broader issues.
•  Assess the relative merits of different arguments and critically engage with competing arguments derived from academic literature.
• Take a more critical stance towards popular and semi-popular presentations of evolution and its implications.


40% coursework and 60% exam.
Coursework: 1 essay of 3000 words.  Exam: 2 hours. 

Teaching Method:

Lecture (1.5 hours) and seminar (1 hour) weekly.

Introductory Reading:

B Garvey                                      Philosophy of Biology, Acumen 2007
T  Lewens                                    Darwin, Routledge, 2007
A Rosenberg and D McShea        Philosophy of Biology: A Contemporary Introduction, Routledge, 2008
K Sterelny and P Griffiths            Sex and Death, University of Chicago Press, 1999.


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