Monday, December 15, 2008

Philosophy of Biology in Spring 2009

A few students have asked about my Philosophy of Biology course (PHIL 417/517, W 3:30–5:50, Spring 2009). Here's a near-final draft of the syllabus that will answer questions about the requirements and topics. Let me point out a few things for interested parties: First, the course will not be a survey. I've decided to alternate between offering more survey-style courses on the philosophy of biology (really surveys of a limited terrain within the phil bio world) and more focused, topic-based courses — the latter will be in odd years; the former in even years. In this case (an odd year par excellence), the topics we'll be dealing with will cluster around questions about biological taxonomy, biological laws, and reductionism — coincidentally all questions that I am actively working on. Thus, the course will feature a healthy dose of my articles, for better or worse. If you're inclined to think worse (my mother chided me about doing this before --- one of her professors in college apparently did something similar, to ill effect), then you should perhaps wait a year to take the course when I'll be much diluted. If you like the idea of talking about and influencing research that is currently going on, then you should enjoy the course.

Second, as the course will be taught as an advanced philosophy course (an undergrad-grad "slash" course), it is highly advisable that you have a bit of philosophy and biology under your belt (students interested in completing the Bioethics Minor should not start with this course!). If you feel especially nervous about your knowledge of evolutionary biology, I can recommend these two classic texts: Ridley's or Futuyma's. In fact, 3 credits of philosophy and 3 credits of biology are prerequisites for being in the class. Apparently, though the registrar will allow you to register for PHIL 417 without either or both (something about not being able to automatically handle non-specific prereqs). That doesn't detract from the fact that they are prerequisites still: if you do not meet them, then you need my permission to take the course.

I'll soon post the course website here. In the meantime, you wish to take a look at the course books as you course-shop, I've ordered Elliott Sober's excellent anthology Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology (3rd Edition, MIT 2006) and Lewontin's little book The Triple Helix. I also asked the UI Bookstore to order a few copies of Sterelny and Griffith's excellent and nicely named introductory text in Phil Bio as an optional text. Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions about the course or need to chat about your preparation for it in order to take it.

Phil Bio 2009 Syllabus

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