Some Darwinists keep their Darwinism close to the vest. Others wear it on their sleeves. Massimo Pigliucci has it tattooed on his forehead. Indeed, his "Darwin Day" celebrations at the University of Tennessee have become an annual orgy of self-congratulation before Darwin's idol.
Introduction: Law and Philosophy—Moral, Legal and Political Perspectives Content Type Journal Article Pages 237-239 DOI 10.1007/s11158-008-9068-9 Authors Massimo Renzo, University of Stirling Department of Philosophy Stirling 4LA FK9 UK Bjarke Viskum, University of Århus Department of Jurisprudence Langelandsgade 110, 3 tv. 8000 Arhus C Denmark Journal Res Publica Online ISSN 1572-8692 Print ISSN 1356-4765 Journal Volume Volume 14 Journal Issue Volume 14, Number 4.
If evolutionary biologist Massimo Pigliucci didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent him. His Tales of the Rational defines an intellectual space as far removed as hardcore religious fundamentalism from mainstream thinking--but it may be coming closer as scientists and skeptics launch more aggressive attacks on pseudoscience and fuzzy thinking. Pigliucci, a rising star on the evolution-creationism debate circuit, pulls out all the stops in his work, not content merely to defend science against its detractors, but eagerly undermining (...) belief in religion and the existence of any gods at all. Using writing that is strong if rarely eloquent, he defines his terms precisely, makes short work of creationists William Lane Craig and Duane Gish, challenges religious preconceptions, and even ventures to hose down the flames of pseudoscience spouting from chaos theory. Readers with any sympathy for spirituality will run face-first into statements like "I do not see what science has to gain from being reconciled with a system of superstitious beliefs that stands for the exact opposite of free inquiry.". (shrink)
How should we live? According to philosopher and biologist Massimo Pigliucci, the greatest guidance to this essential question lies in combining the wisdom of 24 centuries of philosophy with the latest research from 21st century science. In Answers for Aristotle, Pigliucci argues that the combination of science and philosophy first pioneered by Aristotle offers us the best possible tool for understanding the world and ourselves. As Aristotle knew, each mode of thought has the power to clarify the other: science (...) provides facts, and philosophy helps us reflect on the values with which to assess them. But over the centuries, the two have become uncoupled, leaving us with questions—about morality, love, friendship, justice, and politics—that neither field could fully answer on its own. Pigliucci argues that only by rejoining each other can modern science and philosophy reach their full potential, while we harness them to help us reach ours. Pigliucci discusses such essential issues as how to tell right from wrong, the nature of love and friendship, and whether we can really ever know ourselves—all in service of helping us find our path to the best possible life. Combining the two most powerful intellectual traditions in history, Answers for Aristotle is a remarkable guide to discovering what really matters and why. (shrink)
Pigliucci, Massimo A recent New York Times article has noted a new trend in secular writings, what the author, James Atlas, termed 'Can't-Help-Yourself books'. This trend includes writings by prominent scientists and secularists that are characterised by two fundamental - and equally misguided - ideas: an over-enthusiastic embrace of science, and the dismissal of much of human experience under the generic label of 'illusion'.
Ever since Darwin a great deal of the conceptual history of biology may be read as a struggle between two philosophical positions: reductionism and holism. On the one hand, we have the reductionist claim that evolution has to be understood in terms of changes at the fundamental causal level of the gene. As Richard Dawkins famously put it, organisms are just ‘lumbering robots’ in the service of their genetic masters. On the other hand, there is a long holistic tradition that (...) focuses on the complexity of developmental systems, on the non-linearity of gene– environment interactions, and on multi-level selective processes to argue that the full story of biology is a bit more complicated than that. Reductionism can marshal on its behalf the spectacular successes of genetics and molecular biology throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Holism has built on the development of entirely new disciplines and conceptual frameworks over the past few decades, including evo-devo and phenotypic plasticity. Yet, a number of biologists are still actively looking for a way out of the reductionism–holism counterposition, often mentioning the word ‘emergence’ as a way to deal with the conundrum. This paper briefly examines the philosophical history of the concept of emergence, distinguishes between epistemic and ontological accounts of it, and comments on conceptions of emergence that can actually be useful for practising evolutionary biologists. (shrink)
Public discussions of science are often marred by two pernicious phenomena: a widespread rejection of scientific findings (e.g., the reality of anthropogenic climate change, the conclusion that vaccines do not cause autism, or the validity of evolutionary theory), coupled with an equally common acceptance of pseudoscientific notions (e.g., homeopathy, psychic readings, telepathy, tall tales about alien abductions, and so forth). The typical reaction by scientists and science educators is to decry the sorry state of science literacy among the general public, (...) and to call for more science education as the answer to both problems. But the empirical evidence concerning the relationship between science literacy, rejection of science and acceptance of pseudoscience is mixed at best. In this chapter I argue that—while certainly important—efforts at increasing public knowledge of science (science education) need to be complemented by attention to common logical fallacies (philosophy), cognitive biases and dissonance (psychology), and the role of ideological commitments (sociology). Even this complex, multi-disciplinary approach to science education will likely only yield measurable results in the very long term. Meanwhile science remains, as Carl Sagan famously put it, a candle in the dark, delicate and in need of much nurturing. (shrink)
‘‘Theoretical biology’’ is a surprisingly heter- ogeneous field, partly because it encompasses ‘‘doing the- ory’’ across disciplines as diverse as molecular biology, systematics, ecology, and evolutionary biology. Moreover, it is done in a stunning variety of different ways, using anything from formal analytical models to computer sim- ulations, from graphic representations to verbal arguments. In this essay I survey a number of aspects of what it means to do theoretical biology, and how they compare with the allegedly much more restricted (...) sense of theory in the physical sciences. I also tackle a recent trend toward the presentation of all-encompassing theories in the biological sciences, from general theories of ecology to a recent attempt to provide a conceptual framework for the entire set of biological disciplines. Finally, I discuss the roles played by philosophers of science in criticizing and shap- ing biological theorizing. (shrink)
The aim of this paper is to provide an overview of Heidegger's philosophy and reveal a possibility of an other beginning, of which we can have only a premonition for now. The paper is very much a preparation for work which is currently underway.
It is an unfortunate fact of academic life that there is a sharp divide between science and philosophy, with scientists often being openly dismissive of philosophy, and philosophers being equally contemptuous of the naivete ́ of scientists when it comes to the philosophical underpinnings of their own discipline. In this paper I explore the possibility of reducing the distance between the two sides by introducing science students to some interesting philosophical aspects of research in evolutionary biology, using biological theories of (...) the origin of religion as an example. I show that philosophy is both a discipline in its own right as well as one that has interesting implications for the understanding and practice of science. While the goal is certainly not to turn science students into philoso- phers, the idea is that both disciplines cannot but benefit from a mutual dialogue that starts as soon as possible, in the classroom. (shrink)
Apparently, I’m a righteous son of a bitch, morally speaking. At least that’s the conclusion I would have to reach if I trusted the results of a morality test I took at the BBC website (bbc.co.uk/labuk/experiments/morality). The test was devised to collect data for a “new theory” that seeks to make sense of human morality in terms of a super-organism concept. Briefly, the idea is that “we, as individuals, behave as if we are part of a bigger ‘superorganism’ when we (...) are organised into large social groups, as in cities or societies. ... all moral actions are based on the fundamental need to ‘police’ society in order to keep the ‘superorganism’ functioning properly.”. (shrink)
Genes are often described by biologists using metaphors derived from computa- tional science: they are thought of as carriers of information, as being the equivalent of ‘‘blueprints’’ for the construction of organisms. Likewise, cells are often characterized as ‘‘factories’’ and organisms themselves become analogous to machines. Accordingly, when the human genome project was initially announced, the promise was that we would soon know how a human being is made, just as we know how to make airplanes and buildings. Impor- tantly, (...) modern proponents of Intelligent Design, the latest version of creationism, have exploited biologists’ use of the language of information and blueprints to make their spurious case, based on pseudoscientific concepts such as ‘‘irreducible complexity’’ and on flawed analogies between living cells and mechanical factories. However, the living organ- ism = machine analogy was criticized already by David Hume in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. In line with Hume’s criticism, over the past several years a more nuanced and accurate understanding of what genes are and how they operate has emerged, ironically in part from the work of computational scientists who take biology, and in particular developmental biology, more seriously than some biologists seem to do. In this article we connect Hume’s original criticism of the living organism = machine analogy with the modern ID movement, and illustrate how the use of misleading and outdated metaphors in science can play into the hands of pseudoscientists. Thus, we argue that dropping the blueprint and similar metaphors will improve both the science of biology and its understanding by the general public. (shrink)
Few scientists are conscious of the distinc- tion between the logic of what they write and the rhetoric of how they write it. This is because we are taught to write scientific papers and books from a third-person per- spective, using as impersonal (and, almost inevitably, boring ) a style as possible. The first chapter in Elliott Sober’s new book examines the difference between Darwin’s logic and his rhetoric in The Origin, and manages to teach some interesting and in- sightful (...) historical and philosophical lessons while doing so. (shrink)
Science has always strived for objectivity, for a ‘‘view from nowhere’’ that is not marred by ideology or personal preferences. That is a lofty ideal toward which perhaps it makes sense to strive, but it is hardly the reality. This collection of thirteen essays assembled by Denis R. Alexander and Ronald L. Numbers ought to give much pause to scientists and the public at large, though historians, sociologists and philosophers of science will hardly be surprised by the material covered here.
Evolutionary theory is undergoing an intense period of discussion and reevaluation. This, contrary to the misleading claims of creationists and other pseudoscientists, is no harbinger of a crisis but rather the opposite: the field is expanding dramatically in terms of both empirical discoveries and new ideas. In this essay I briefly trace the conceptual history of evolutionary theory from Darwinism to neo-Darwinism, and from the Modern Synthesis to what I refer to as the Extended Synthesis, a more inclusive conceptual framework (...) containing among others evo–devo, an expanded theory of heredity, elements of complexity theory, ideas about evolvability, and a reevaluation of levels of selection. I argue that evolutionary biology has never seen a paradigm shift, in the philosophical sense of the term, except when it moved from natural theology to empirical science in the middle of the 19th century. The Extended Synthesis, accordingly, is an expansion of the Modern Synthesis of the 1930s and 1940s, and one that—like its predecessor—will probably take decades to complete. (shrink)
Few metaphors in biology are more enduring than the idea of Adaptive Landscapes, originally proposed by Sewall Wright (1932) as a way to visually present to an audience of typically non- mathematically savvy biologists his ideas about the relative role of natural selection and genetic drift in the course of evolution. The metaphor, how- ever, was born troubled, not the least reason for which is the fact that Wright presented different diagrams in his original paper that simply can- not refer (...) to the same concept and are therefore hard to reconcile with each other (Pigliucci 2008). For instance, in some usages, the landscape’s non- fitness axes represent combinations of individual genotypes (which cannot sensibly be aligned on a linear axis, and accordingly were drawn by Wright as polyhedrons of increasing dimensionality). In other usages, however, the points on the diagram represent allele or genotypic frequencies, and so are actually populations, not individuals (and these can indeed be coherently represented along continuous axes). (shrink)
In this paper I outline a theory of legitimacy that grounds the stateâ€™s right to rule on a natural duty not to harm others. I argue that by refusing to enter the state, anarchists expose those living next to them to the dangers of the state of nature, thereby posing an unjust threat. Since we have a duty not to pose unjust threats to others, anarchists have a duty to leave the state of nature and enter the state. This duty (...) correlates to a claim-right possessed by those living next to them, who also have a right to act in self-defence to enforce this obligation. This argument, if successful, would be particularly attractive, as it provides an account of state legitimacy without importing any normative premises that libertarians would reject. (shrink)
The debate about the levels of selection has been one of the most controversial both in evolutionary biology and in philosophy of science. Okasha’s book makes the sort of contribution that simply will not be able to be ignored by anyone interested in this field for many years to come. However, my interest here is in highlighting some examples of how Okasha goes about discussing his material to suggest that his book is part of an increasingly interesting trend that sees (...) scientists and philosophers coming together to build a broadened concept of “theory” through a combination of standard mathematical treatments and conceptual analyses. Given the often contentious history of the relationship between philosophy and science, such trend cannot but be welcome. (shrink)
Massimo Dell'Utri (1990) provides a reconstruction of Hilary Putnam's argument (1981, chapter 1) to show that the hypothesis that we are brains in a vat is self-refuting. I will explain why the argument Dell'Utri offers us is, on the face of it, quite problematic. Then I will provide a way out of the difficulty.
Introduction : science versus pseudoscience and the "demarcation problem" -- Hard science, soft science -- Almost science -- Pseudoscience -- Blame the media? -- Debates on science : the rise of think tanks and the decline of public intellectuals -- Science and politics : the case of global warming -- Science in the courtroom : the case against intelligent design -- From superstition to natural philosophy -- From natural philosophy to modern science -- The science wars I : do we (...) trust science too much? -- The science wars II : do we trust science too little? -- Who's your expert? -- Conclusion : so, what is science after all? (shrink)
In their book What Darwin Got Wrong , Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini construct an a priori philosophical argument and an empirical biological argument. The biological argument aims to show that natural selection is much less important in the evolutionary process than many biologists maintain. The a priori argument begins with the claim that there cannot be selection for one but not the other of two traits that are perfectly correlated in a population; it concludes that there cannot be (...) an evolutionary theory of adaptation. This article focuses mainly on the a priori argument. *Received March 2010; revised July 2010. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, 5185 Helen C. White Hall, University of Wisconsin–Madison, Madison, WI 53706; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. (shrink)
Discussions about the biological bases (or lack thereof) of the concept of race in the human species seem to be never ending. One of the latest rounds is represented by a paper by Neven Sesardic, which attempts to build a strong scientific case for the existence of human races, based on genetic, morphometric and behavioral characteristics, as well as on a thorough critique of opposing positions. In this paper I show that Sesardic’s critique falls far short of the goal, and (...) that his positive case is exceedingly thin. I do this through a combination of analysis of the actual scientific findings invoked by Sesardic and of some philo- sophical unpacking of his conceptual analysis, drawing on a dual professional background as an evolu- tionary biologist and a philosopher of science. (shrink)
The idea of phenotypic novelty appears throughout the evolutionary literature. Novelties have been defined so broadly as to make the term meaningless and so narrowly as to apply only to a limited number of spectacular structures. Here I examine some of the available definitions of phenotypic novelty and argue that the modern synthesis is ill equipped at explaining novelties. I then discuss three frameworks that may help biologists get a better insight of how novelties arise during evolution but warn that (...) these frameworks should be considered in addition to, and not as potential substitutes of, the modern synthesis. †To contact the author, please write to: Departments of Ecology and Evolution and Philosophy, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, NY 11794; e‐mail: email@example.com. (shrink)
In this article I criticize a theory of political obligation recently put forward by Christopher Wellman. Wellman's “samaritan theory” grounds both state legitimacy and political obligation in a natural duty to help people in need when this can be done at no unreasonable cost. I argue that this view is not able to account for some important features of the relation between state and citizens that Wellman himself seems to value. My conclusion is that the samaritan theory can only be (...) accepted if we are ready to give up either the traditional notion of political obligation as a prima facie duty valid for every citizen, or the current view of the relationships that should exist between states, citizens and foreigners (the view according to which states should have special concerns for their own citizens). (shrink)
Philosophical inquiries into morality are as old as philosophy, but it may turn out that morality itself is much, much older than that. At least, that is the main thesis of prima- tologist Frans De Waal, who in this short book based on his Tanner Lectures at Princeton, elaborates on what biologists have been hinting at since Darwin’s (1871) book The Descent of Man and Hamilton’s (1963) studies on the evolution of altruism: morality is yet another allegedly human characteristic that (...) turns out to be built over evolutionary time by natural. (shrink)
In a now classic paper published in 1991, Alberch introduced the concept of genotype–phenotype (G!P) mapping to provide a framework for a more sophisticated discussion of the integration between genetics and developmental biology that was then available. The advent of evo-devo first and of the genomic era later would seem to have superseded talk of transitions in phenotypic space and the like, central to Alberch’s approach. On the contrary, this paper shows that recent empirical and theoretical advances have only sharpened (...) the need for a different conceptual treat- ment of how phenotypes are produced. Old-fashioned metaphors like genetic blueprint and genetic programme are not only woefully inadequate but positively misleading about the nature of G!P, and are being replaced by an algorithmic approach emerging from the study of a variety of actual G!P maps. These include RNA folding, protein function and the study of evolvable soft- ware. Some generalities are emerging from these disparate fields of analysis, and I suggest that the concept of ‘developmental encoding’ (as opposed to the classical one of genetic encoding) provides a promising computational–theoretical underpinning to coherently integrate ideas on evolvability, modularity and robustness and foster a fruitful framing of the G!P mapping problem. (shrink)
The term pseudoscience refers to a highly heterogeneous set of practices, beliefs, and claims sharing the property of appearing to be scientific when in fact they contradict either scientific findings or the methods by which science proceeds. Classic examples of pseudoscience include astrology, parapsychology, and ufology; more recent entries are the denial of a causal link between the HIV virus and AIDS or the claim that vaccines cause autism. To distinguish between science and pseudoscience is part of what the philosopher (...) Karl Popper referred to as the demarcation problem, a project that has been dismissed by another philosopher, Larry Laudan, but that keeps gathering much interest in philosophers, scientists, educators, and policymakers. This entry provides the basics of the debate about demarcation, as well as a brief discussion of why it is of vital importance not just intellectually but for society at large. (shrink)
The so-called ‘‘species problem’’ has plagued evolution- ary biology since before Darwin’s publication of the aptly titled Origin of Species. Many biologists think the problem is just a matter of semantics; others complain that it will not be solved until we have more empirical data. Yet, we don’t seem to be able to escape discussing it and teaching seminars about it. In this paper, I briefly examine the main themes of the biological and philosophical liter- atures on the species problem, (...) focusing on identifying common threads as well as relevant differences. I then argue two fundamental points. First, the species problem is not primarily an empirical one, but it is rather fraught with philosophical questions that require—but cannot be settled by—empirical evidence. Second, the (dis-)solution lies in explicitly adopting Wittgenstein’s idea of ‘‘family resemblance’’ or cluster concepts, and to consider spe- cies as an example of such concepts. This solution has several attractive features, including bringing together apparently diverging themes of discussion among bio- logists and philosophers. The current proposal is con- ceptually independent (though not incompatible) with the pluralist approach to the species problem advocated by Mishler, Donoghue, Kitcher and Dupre ́, which implies that distinct aspects of the species question need to be emphasized depending on the goals of the researcher. From the biological literature, the concept of species that most closely matches the philosophical discussion pre- sented here is Templeton’s cohesion idea. (shrink)
According to the received view crimes like torture, rape, enslavement or enforced prostitution are domestic crimes if they are committed as isolated or sporadic events, but become crimes against humanity when they are committed as part of a âwidespread or systematic attackâ against a civilian population. Only in the latter case can these crimes be prosecuted by the international community. One of the most influential accounts of this idea is Larry Mayâs International Harm Principle, which states that crimes against humanity (...) are those that somehow âharm humanity.â I argue that this principle is unable to provide an adequate account of crimes against humanity. Moreover, I argue that the principle fails to account for the idea that crimes against humanity are necessarily group based. I conclude by suggesting that the problem with Mayâs account is that it relies on a harm-based conception of crime which is very popular, but ultimately mistaken. I submit that in order to develop an adequate theory of crimes against humanity we need to abandon the harm-based model and replace it with an alternative conception of crime and criminal law, one based on the notion of accountability. (shrink)
According to the received view (Boche?ski, Kneale), from the end of the fourteenth to the second half of nineteenth century, logic enters a period of decadence. If one looks at this period, the richness of the topics and the complexity of the discussions that characterized medieval logic seem to belong to a completely different world: a simplified theory of the syllogism is the only surviving relic of a glorious past. Even though this negative appraisal is grounded on good reasons, it (...) overlooks, however, a remarkable innovation that imposes itself at the beginning of the sixteenth century: the attempt to connect the two previously separated disciplines of logic and mathematics. This happens along two opposite directions: the one aiming to base mathematical proofs on traditional (Aristotelian) logic; the other attempting to reduce logic to a mathematical (algebraical) calculus. This second trend was reinforced by the claim, mainly propagated by Hobbes, that the activity of thinking was the same as that of performing an arithmetical calculus. Thus, in the period of what Boche?ski characterizes as ?classical logic?, one may find the seeds of a process which was completed by Boole and Frege and opened the door to the contemporary, mathematical form of logic. (shrink)
Biological research on race has often been seen as motivated by or lending credence to underlying racist attitudes; in part for this reason, recently philosophers and biologists have gone through great pains to essentially deny the existence of biological human races. We argue that human races, in the biological sense of local populations adapted to particular environments, do in fact exist; such races are best understood through the common ecological concept of ecotypes. However, human ecotypic races do not in general (...) correspond with 'folk' racial categories, largely because many similar ecotypes have multiple independent origins. Consequently, while human natural races exist, they have little or nothing in common with 'folk' races. (shrink)
In this paper I criticise an influential version of associative theory of political obligation and I offer a reformulation of the theory in ‘quasi-voluntarist’ terms. I argue that although unable by itself to solve the problem of political obligation, my quasi-voluntarist associative model can play an important role in solving this problem. Moreover, the model teaches us an important methodological lesson about the way in which we should think about the question of political obligation. Finally, I suggest that the quasi-voluntarist (...) associative model is particularly attractive because it manages to combine the main thrust of the traditional associative view with the most attractive feature of transactional theories, while avoiding at the same time the main problems that afflict each of these two approaches. (shrink)
Whenever we try to make an inventory of humankind’s store of knowledge, we stumble into an ongoing battle between what CP Snow called ‘the two cultures’. On one side are the humanities, on the other are the sciences (natural and physical), with social science and philosophy caught somewhere in the middle. This is more than a turf dispute among academics. It strikes at the core of what we mean by human knowledge.
To explore the potential evolutionary relevance of heritable epigenetic variation, the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center recently hosted a catalysis meeting that brought together molecular epigeneticists, experimental evolutionary ecologists, and theoretical population and quantitative geneticists working across a wide variety of systems. The group discussed the methods available to investigate epigenetic variation and epigenetic inheritance, and how to evaluate their importance for phenotypic evolution. We found that understanding the relevance of epigenetic effects in phe- notypic evolution will require clearly delineating epigenetics (...) within existing terminology and expanding research efforts into ecologically relevant circumstances across model and nonmodel organisms. In addition, a critical component of understanding epigenetics will be the development of new and current statistical approaches and expansion of quantitative and population genetic theory. Although the importance of heritable epigenetic effects on evolution is still under discussion, investigating them in the context of a multidisciplinary approach could transform the field. (shrink)
The study of phenotypic plasticity has progressed significantly over the past few decades. We have moved from variation for plasticity being considered as a nuisance in evolutionary studies to it being the primary target of investigations that use an array of methods, including quantitative and molecular genetics, as well as of several approaches that model the evolution of plastic responses. Here, I consider some of the major aspects of research on phenotypic plasticity, assessing where progress has been made and where (...) additional effort is required. I suggest that some areas of research, such the study of the quantitative genetic underpinning of plasticity, have been either settled in broad outline or superseded by new approaches and questions. Other issues, such as the costs of plasticity are currently at the forefront of research in this field, and are likely to be areas of major future development. (shrink)
In recent years, biologists have increasingly been asking whether the ability to evolve — the evolvability — of biological systems, itself evolves, and whether this phenomenon is the result of natural selection or a by-product of other evolutionary processes. The concept of evolvability, and the increasing theoretical and empirical literature that refers to it, may constitute one of several pillars on which an extended evolutionary synthesis will take shape during the next few years, although much work remains to be done (...) on how evolvability comes about. (shrink)
Crimes against humanity are supposed to have a collective dimension with respect both to their victims and their perpetrators. According to the orthodox view, these crimes can be committed by individuals against individuals, but only in the context of a widespread or systematic attack against the group to which the victims belong. In this paper I offer a new conception of crimes against humanity and a new justification for their international prosecution. This conception has important implications as to which crimes (...) can be justifiably prosecuted and punished by the international community. I contend that the scope of the area of international criminal justice that deals with basic human rights violations should be wider than is currently acknowledged, in that it should include some individual violations of human rights, rather than only violations that have a collective dimension. (shrink)
The article briefly analyzes the concept of a person, arguing that personhood does not coincide with the actual enjoyment of certain intellectual capacities, but is coextensive with the embodiment of a human individual. Since in PVS patients we can observe a human individual functioning as a whole, we must conclude that these patients are still human persons, even if in a condition of extreme impairment. It is then argued that some forms of minimal treatment may not be futile for these (...) patients; they may constitute a form of respect for their human dignity and benefit these patients, even if they are not aware of that. Moreover, it is important to consider the symbolic significance of care: while many believe that PVS is a kind of imprisonment, for others providing food and fluids is the only way to testify our proximity to these persons. The best policy would be to provide, as a general rule, artificial nutrition and hydration to PVS patients: this treatment could be withdrawn, after a period of observation and reflection by the family and proxies, on the basis of the proxies' objection to the continuation or of the patient's advance directives specifically referring to this situation. (shrink)
Biologists are increasingly reexamining the conceptual structure of evolutionary theory, which dates back to the so-called Modern Synthesis of the 1930s and 1940s. Calls for an Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES) cite a number of empir- ical and theoretical advances that need to be accounted for, including evolvability, evo- lutionary novelties, capacitors of phenotypic evolution, developmental plasticity, and phenotypic attractors. In Biological Emergences, however, Robert Reid outlines a theory of evolution in which natural selection plays no role or—worse—actually impedes evo- lution (...) by what Reid calls “natural experimentation.” For Reid, biological complexity emerges because of intrinsic mechanisms that work in opposition to natural selection, a view that would reopen old questions of orthogenesis and Lamarckism.This review outlines why we do need an EES, but also why it is unlikely to take the shape that Reid advocates. (shrink)
Is integrative biology a good idea, or even possible? There has been much interest lately in the unifica- tion of biology and the integration of traditionally separate disciplines such as molecular and develop- mental biology on one hand, and ecology and evolutionary biology on the other. In this paper I ask if and under what circumstances such integration of efforts actually makes sense. I develop by example an analogy with Aristotle’s famous four “causes” that one can investigate concerning any object (...) or phenomenon: material (what something is made of), formal (what distinguishes that particular object from others), efficient (how was the object made) and final (why was the object made). The example is provided by ongoing research on different aspects of flowering time in the model system Arabidop- sis, a small weed belonging to the mustard family. I show that understanding how flowering time is controlled is an epistemologically different sort of question from why and how it evolved, and that the two research agendas can be pursued largely independently of each other. Toward the end, I propose that the real goal of integrative biology is to understand the boundary layers between levels of biologi- cal analysis, something to which modern philosophy of science can contribute significantly. (shrink)
What is a race? Ernst Mayr (1904–2005) distinguishes between species in which biological change is continuous in space, and species in which groups of populations with different character combinations are separated by borders. In the latter species, the entities separated by borders are geographic races or subspecies. Many anthropology textbooks describe human races as discrete (or nearly discrete) clusters of individuals, geographically localized, each of which shares a set of ancestors, and hence can be distinguished from other races by their (...) common gene pool or by different alleles fixed in each. (shrink)
Research in ecology and evolutionary biology (evo-eco) often tries to emulate the “hard” sciences such as physics and chemistry, but to many of its practitioners feels more like the “soft” sciences of psychology and sociology. I argue that this schizophrenic attitude is the result of lack of appreciation of the full consequences of the peculiarity of the evo-eco sciences as lying in between a-historical disciplines such as physics and completely historical ones as like paleontology. Furthermore, evo-eco researchers have gotten stuck (...) on mathematically appealing but philosophi- cally simplistic concepts such as null hypotheses and p-values defined according to the frequentist approach in statistics, with the consequence of having been unable to fully embrace the complexity and subtlety of the problems with which ecologists and evolutionary biologists deal with. I review and discuss some literature in ecology, philosophy of science and psychology to show that a more critical methodological attitude can be liberating for the evo-eco scientist and can lead to a more fecund and enjoyable practice of ecology and evolutionary biology. With this aim, I briefly cover concepts such as the method of multiple hypotheses, Bayesian analysis, and strong inference. (shrink)
The creation-evolution “controversy” has been with us for more than a century. Here I argue that merely teaching more science will probably not improve the situation; we need to understand the controversy as part of a broader problem with public acceptance of pseudoscience, and respond by teaching how science works as a method. Critical thinking is difficult to teach, but educators can rely on increasing evidence from neurobiology about how the brain learns, or fails to.
Our perception of external features comprises, among others, functional and phenomenological levels. At the functional level, the perceiver’s mind processes external features according to its own causal- functional organization. At the phenomenological level, the perceiver has consciousness of external features. The question of this paper is: How do the functional and the phenomenological levels of perception relate to each other? The answer I propose is that functional states of specifically perceptual attention constitute the necessary basis for the arising of consciousness (...) in a perceiver. -/- Widely studied within cognitive psychology, perceptual attention is still awaiting a thoroughgoing philosophical treatment. The paper presents and draws upon Anne Treisman’s feature-integration theory of attention (cf. A. Treisman & G. Gelade, “A Feature-Integration Theory of Attention,” Cognitive Psychology, 12, 1980. Pp. 97-136). According to this theory, attentional mechanisms are responsible for the binding of perceptual features into coherent and stable objects of perception. By itself, I will claim, the theory of feature integration does not allow a straightforward reduction of consciousness to the functional processing underlying it. However, on the basis of Treisman’s theory we can produce a methodological argument for endorsing the non-reductivist thesis that attentional states constitute the necessary basis for the arising of consciousness in a perceiver. The paper closes by presenting this argument, according to which the thesis is implied by a unified account of the common representational natures of attentional and conscious states. (shrink)
Evolutionary biology is a field currently animated by much discussion concerning its conceptual foundations. On the one hand, we have supporters of a classical view of evolutionary theory, whose backbone is provided by population genetics and the so-called Modern Synthesis (MS). On the other hand, a number of researchers are calling for an Extended Synthe- sis (ES) that takes seriously both the limitations of the MS (such as its inability to incorporate developmental biology) and recent empirical and theoretical research on (...) issues such as evolvability, modularity, and self-organization. In this article, I engage in an in-depth commentary of an influential paper by population geneticist Michael Lynch, which I take to be the best defense of the MS-population genetics position published so far. I show why I think that Lynch’s arguments are wanting and propose a modification of evolutionary theory that retains but greatly expands on population genetics. (shrink)
This paper outlines a critique of the use of the genetic variance–covariance matrix (G), one of the central concepts in the modern study of natural selection and evolution. Specifically, I argue that for both conceptual and empirical reasons, studies of G cannot be used to elucidate so-called constraints on natural selection, nor can they be employed to detect or to measure past selection in natural populations – contrary to what assumed by most practicing biologists. I suggest that the search for (...) a general solution to the difficult problem of identifying causal structures given observed correlation’s has led evolutionary quantitative geneticists to substitute statistical modeling for the more difficult, but much more valuable, job of teasing apart the many possible causes underlying the action of natural selection. Hence, the entire evolutionary quantitative genetics research program may be in need of a fundamental reconsideration of its goals and how they correspond to the array of mathematical and experimental techniques normally employed by its practitioners. (shrink)
Science and philosophy have a very long history, dating back at least to the 16th and 17th centuries, when the first scientist-philosophers, such as Bacon, Galilei, and Newton, were beginning the process of turning natural philosophy into science. Contemporary relationships between the two fields are still to some extent marked by the distrust that maintains the divide between the so-called “two cultures.” An increasing number of philosophers, however, are making conceptual contributions to sciences ranging from quantum mechanics to evolutionary biology, (...) and a few scientists are conducting research relevant to classically philosophical fields of inquiry, such as consciousness and moral decision-making. This article will introduce readers to the borderlands between science and philosophy, beginning with a brief description of what philosophy of science is about, and including a discussion of how the two disciplines can fruitfully interact not only at the level of scholarship, but also when it comes to controversies surrounding public understanding of science. (shrink)
The Modern Synthesis (MS) is the current paradigm in evolutionary biology. It was actually built by expanding on the conceptual foundations laid out by its predecessors, Darwinism and neo-Darwinism. For sometime now there has been talk of a new Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (EES), and this article begins to outline why we may need such an extension, and how it may come about. As philosopher Karl Popper has noticed, the current evolutionary theory is a theory of genes, and we still lack (...) a theory of forms. The field began, in fact, as a theory of forms in Darwin’s days, and the major goal that an EES will aim for is a unification of our theories of genes and of forms. This may be achieved through an organic grafting of novel concepts onto the foundational structure of the MS, particularly evolvability, phenotypic plasticity, epigenetic inheritance, complexity theory, and the theory of evolution in highly dimensional adaptive landscapes. (shrink)
Natural selection [Darwin 1859] is perhaps the most important component of evolutionary theory, since it is the only known process that can bring about the adaptation of living organisms to their environments [Gould 2002]. And yet, its study is conceptually and methodologically complex, and much attention needs to be paid to a variety of phenomena that can limit the efficacy of selection [Antonovics 1976; Pigliucci and Kaplan 2000]. In this essay, I will use examples of recent work carried out in (...) my laboratory to illustrate basic research on natural selection as conducted using a variety of approaches, including field work, laboratory experiments, and molecular genetics. I also discuss the application of this array of tools to questions pertinent to conservation biology, and in particular to the all-important problem of what makes invasive species so good at creating the sort of problems they are infamous for [Lee 2002]. (shrink)
We attempt to improve the understanding of the notion of agene being `for a phenotypic trait or traits. Considering theimplicit functional ascription of one thing being `for another,we submit a more restrictive version of `gene for talk.Accordingly, genes are only to be thought of as being forphenotypic traits when good evidence is available that thepresence or prevalence of the gene in a population is the resultof natural selection on that particular trait, and that theassociation between that trait and the gene (...) in question isdemonstrably causal. It is therefore necessary to gatherstatistical, biochemical, historical, as well as ecologicalinformation before properly claiming that a gene is for aphenotypic trait. Instead of hampering practical use of the `genefor talk, our approach aims at stimulating much needed researchinto the functional ecology and comparative evolutionary biologyof gene action. (shrink)
The so-called evolution wars (Futuyma 1995; Pigliucci 2002) between the scientific understanding of the history of life on earth and various religiously inspired forms of cre- ationism are more than ever at the forefront of the broader ‘‘science wars,’’ themselves a part of the even more encom- passing ‘‘cultural wars.’’ With all these conflicts going on, and at a time when a potentially historical case on the teach- ing of Intelligent Design (ID) in public schools is being de- bated in (...) Pennsylvania, it may be useful to consider a number of books that have come out recently to help scientists and the public at large to understand what all the fuss is about. (shrink)