Biology 5: Philosophy of Biology

TuTh 10-11:50
110 Moore Hall

Professor Michael R. Dietrich
113I Centerra Biolabs
Department of Biological Sciences
Dartmouth College

Office Hours: T, Th 12-1 and by appointment in 214 Gilman Hall

This course will introduce you to major topics in the philosophy of biology. Because historically this field has been driven by conceptual issues at the foundations of evolutionary biology, many of the issues considered will concern evolution in some way. No prior knowledge of biology or philosophy is required for this course.

Texts:     David Hull and Michael Ruse, editors. The Philosophy of Biology (Oxford University Press, 1998)

Robert Pennock, Intelligent Design Creatoinism and Its Critics.(MIT Press, 2001)

Course Webpage:

Course Outline (subject to change):

Th 6/23

Course Overview -- The Conceptual Foundations of Biology

T 6/28 Adaptation Ch 1-2
Th 6/30 Adaptationism Ch 3-5
Gould & Lewontin
T 7/5 From Developmental Constraint to Evo/Devo Ch 6-7
Th 7/7 The Problem of Drift Beatty
T 7/12 Units of Selection Ch 8-10
Th 7/14 No Class -- Take Home Exam  
T 7/19 Species Concepts Ch 14-16
Th 7/21 Speciation and Systematics  
T 7/26 The Great Species Debate  
Th 7/28 Gender, Sex, and Essentialism Ch 17-20
T 8/2 Evolution and Homosexuality Ch 21
Th 8/4 The Problem of Altruism Ch 22-24
T 8/9 EXAM  
Th 8/11 Creationism and Intelligent Design Pennock, Section I
T 8/16 Evolutionary Naturalism Pennock, Section II
Th 8/18 Intelligent Design Creationism Pennock, Section IV
T 8/23 Creationism Pennock, Selections

Assignments and Evaluation

Exam 1 Take Home Essay 30% Assigned 7/12; Due 7/19
Group Presentation In class presentation with peer evaluation 10% 7/26
Exam 2 In Class; Short answer and Essay. Only on material since Exam 1. 30% 8/9
Final Exam In Class; Short answer and Essay. Comprehensive. 30% TBA



Additional Reading:

S. J. Gould and R. Lewontin, "The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme," REPUBLISHED FROM PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF LONDON, SERIES B, VOL. 205, NO. 1161 (1979), PP. 581-598.


J. Beatty, “Chance and Natural Selection,”Philosophy of Science, 51, (1984) 183-211.

R. Milllstien, “Are Random Drift and Natural Selection Conceptually Distinct?,” Biology and Philosophy 17 (2002) 33-53.


Please note:

Any student with a documented disability needing academic adjustments or accommodations is requested to speak to me by the end of the second week of the term, all discussions will remain confidential, although the Student Disabilities Coordinator may be consulted to verify the documentation of the disability.