Philosophy 736-335-001

University of Wisconsin/Milwaukee Spring 2005


Instructor: Luca FERRERO
Schedule: TR 11:00-12:15
Office: Curtin Hall 627
Lecture Room: MER 311 [NOTE ROOM CHANGE]
tel. (414) 229-5903/4719
Office hour: T 12:30-1:30


and by appointment


Course Description

Living organisms are remarkably different from inanimate objects. They are purposeful, complex, and adapted to their environment. These properties of living organisms raise several sets of intriguing philosophical questions. First, what is the nature of life? What makes living organisms different and why? Is it conceptually necessary that life be carbon-based, or could artificially created machines and programs be alive? Second, what is necessary in order to explain the variety, complexity, and adaptation of living organisms? Is the process of natural selection sufficient or must we appeal to some intelligent designer? Third, why has evolutionary theory been called a great intellectual achievement and not just a scientific one?

In this course, we will focus for the most part on evolutionary theory and consider some of its implications on the following issues: (a) To what extend genes determine our behavior? (b) who are the primary players and beneficiaries of the evolutionary process? Species, groups, organisms, or genes? (c) What counts as biological individual? (d) How can altruism be the product of the selfish behaviors which seem to be encouraged by natural selection? What are the implications of evolutionary theory for moral for moral philosophy? (f) Can evolutionary explanations be applied and, if so, to what effect, to the investigation of human psychology and cultural changes (as claimed, respectively, by evolutionary psychology and memetics). 

Readings: Sterelny & Griffiths's "Sex and Death"; Dennett's Darwin's Dangerous Idea" and a selection of recent paper. Further information available at No biology background is required. Students majoring in biology or related disciplines should contact the instructor about waiving the philosophy credits requirement.


Kim Sterelny & Paul E. Griffiths Sex and Death. An Introduction to Philosophy of Biology. University of Chicago Press
 R B
Daniel Dennett, Darwin's Dangerous Idea, Simon and Schuster
(check corrections made by Dennett after publication at
 R B

See Syllabus for extra required readings for both Undergraduates and Graduates

Supplementary Readings

Elliott Sober. Philosophy of Biology, Westview Press R
David Hull, Michael Ruse (eds). Philosophy of Biology, Oxford University Press (hereafter HR) O

Ridley, M. (ed.) Evolution. Oxford University Press

Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden R
Keller and Lloyd (eds) Keywords in Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University Press R


Readings marked with B are available at the UWM bookstore
Readings marked with O are available online
Readings marked with R are on reserve at the Golda Meir Library

N.B. You are required to read the assigned texts before attending the lecture



Make sure to check for
Study Aid and On-line Resources in Philosophy



[Topics in square brackets covered only if time permits]
required readings are in larger underlined font
suggested extra readings are in smaller font
01/25 I Introduction Sterelny & Griffiths, Ch. 1
Dennett, Ch. 1
01/27 II Evolutionary Theory Background Tutorial: Ridley, Natural selection and Variation

Sterelny & Griffiths, Ch. 2
Dennett, Ch. 2-3, 5-6

Hull, D., L., Langman, R., E. and Glenn, S., S. (2001) " A General Account of Selection: Biology, Immunology and Behavior." Behavioral and Brain Sciences 24 (2)
in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Fitness in Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy
Dawkins "Universal Darwinism" HR 2 [also in  D. S. Bendall (ed.), Evolution from Molecules to Man Cambridge University Press, 1983,  403-25.]
Dawkins River Out of Eden
Sober Ch. 1 & 3

02/01 III
02/03 IV Evolutionary Explanations and Adaptationism Background Tutorial: Ridley, Adaptive Explanation

Gould - Lewontin "The Spandrels of St. Mark..." (alternate site)
Sterelny & Griffiths Ch. 10 (skip 10.2)
Dennett, Ch. 8-10.2

Dennett, Ch. 10.3-10.4
Dennett, "The Interpretation of Texts, People and Other Artifacts"
Philosophy and phenomenological research (1990) 50, supplement:177-194.

02/08 V
02/10 VI Evolution, Design, and Creation Background Tutorial: Ridley, The evidence for evolution

Sober: Ch. 2
Creationism in Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy

-- On Intelligent Design
Ken Miller's evolution page

--- On Faith and Evolution
Plantinga, "When Faith and Reason Clash: Evolution and the Bible" HR 34

McMullin, "Evolution and Human Creation" HR 35

02/15 VII
02/17 VIII [Function and Design --- Teleology] Sterelny & Griffiths Ch. 10.2
Kitcher, P. "Function and Design", HR 12

Teleology in Biology in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

02/22 IX


02/24 X Selfish Genes Background Tutorial: Ridley, Evolutionary genetics
Background Tutorial: Ridley, Molecular a nd Mendelian Genetics
Background Reading: Sterelny & Griffiths, Ch. 6.2-6.5

Sterelny & Griffiths, Ch. 3-4

Replication in in Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy
Gene in Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy
Heredity in Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy
Genotype-Phenotype in Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy 
Dawkins The Selfish Gene
Dawkins The Extended Phenotype

03/01 XI
03/03 XII Developmental Systems Theory Sterelny & Griffiths, Ch. 5
Griffiths and Gray: "Developmental Systems and Evolutionary Explanations" HR 7

Marcus "Making the Mind: Why We've Misunderstood the Nature-Nurture Debate", Boston Review 28.6 (2004)
Annette Karmiloff-Smith, "Elementary, my dear Watson, the clue is in the genes - or is it?"
Oyama The Ontogeny of Information
Ridley, Mark " Evolutionary Developmental Biology" in Evolution

03/08 XIII
03/10 XIV Units of Selection & Altruism Background Tutorial: Ridley, The units of selection

Sterelny & Griffiths Ch. 8 (up to p. 169)
Altruism in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Wilson, D.S. & Sober, E. (1994). Reintroducing group selection to the human behavioral sciences. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 17 (4): 585-654.

Brandon: "The Levels of Selection, A Hierarchy of Interactors" HR 9
Sober & Wilson "A Critical Review of Philosophical Work on the Units of Selection Problem" HR 10
Game and Evolution in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Sober, Ch. 4

03/15 XV
03/17 XVI [Evolution and Ethics] Rosenberg "Darwinism in Moral Philosophy and Social Theory"
---- ----


03/29 XVII


03/31 XVIII

--- slack ---

04/05 XIX Individuals and Super-Organisms

Sterelny & Griffiths, pp. 170-179
Buss The Evolution of Individuality pp. 170-196
Sousa "Biological Individuality"

Wimsatt "The Ontology of Complex Systems: Levels, Perspectives and Causal Thickets", Canadian Journal of Philosophy supplementary volume #20, ed. Robert Ware and Mohan Matthen. 1994, pp. 207-274. [figures: 1. Complex Orderings - 2. Levels of Organization]
Pietro Ramellini "Reality challenges concepts: The Case of Biological Individuality"
Self in Biology in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

04/07 XX
04/12 XXI Sociobiology & Evolutionary Psychology Sterelny & Griffiths Ch. 13
Cosmides Tooby Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer.
Dennett, Ch. 16-17

Miller, G. The Mating Mind (precis) (an interview on
Hurley, Susan.Feminism and Evolutionary Psychology: Can they be Reconciled?
Sober Ch. 7
Sterelny & Griffiths Ch. 14

04/14 XXII
04/19 XXIII Cultural Evolution & Memetics  Dawkins Viruses of the Mind In (B. Dalhbom, ed.) Dennett and His Critics: Demystifying Mind. Blackwell.
Dennett, Ch. 12, 13.1 & 14.4
Dennett "Memes: Myths, Misunderstandings and Misgivings" 

Sperber: Explaining Culture (Ch. 4-5)
Aaron Lynch Thought Contagion
Resources on Memetics see Journal of Memetics

04/21 XXIV
04/26 XXV What is life? Sterelny & Griffiths Ch. 15.1-15.2
Bedau, "The Nature of Life" sec. 1-3
Bedau "Four Puzzles About life"

Life in Stanfor Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Margulis What is Life? Ch. 1

04/28 XXVI
05/03 XXVII [Artificial Life] Dennett, pp. 166-175
Sterelny & Griffiths Ch. 15.3
Bedau "Artificial Life"

DeSousa, R. "Tima and Individuality in Artificial Life"

05/05 XXVIII

Writing Workshop

See instructions on my homepage

05/10 XIX

Writing Workshop

See instructions on my homepage

05/12 XXX





Assessment of Participation in the Learning Process (30 %)
2 Outlines and Presentations of required readings (450-600 words each)

5% each

Class participation (attendance and participation in class discussion)


Peer Commentaries in the writing workshop


Assessment of Factual Learning (30%)

3 In-class Tests

10% each

Assessment of Critical Reflection on Course Material (40%)

Final Paper (2400-3000 words / approximately 8-10 pages)


[please note that Graduate Students have additional reading requirements to be announced in class]
2 Outlines and Presentations of Readings especially required of Grad. Students

5% each

Class participation


Peer Commentaries in the writing workshop


3 take-home tests

10% each

Final Research Paper (3600-4500 words // approximately 12-15 pages)



click here to see the GRADING GUIDELINES

Please note that PLAGIARISM is a serious instance of Academic Misconduct

Plagiarism includes:

  1. Directly quoting the words of others without using quotation marks or indented format to identify them; or,
  2. Using sources of information (published or unpublished) without identifying them; or,
  3. Paraphrasing materials or ideas of others without identifying the sources.

UWM Policy concerning Plagiarism is available at 



In this class, you are given the opportunity to benefit from the comments of your peers on the first draft of your papers. You must submit the first draft of the paper (at least 1400 words) together with a detailed outline on the first day of the writing workshop. Two or three other students will be assigned to you as commentators. You will meet with them at the writing workshop and discuss with them how to improve your draft. You then have some more days to revise your draft before submitting the final version for grading (for the exact deadlines, see the schedule above). You will also be commenting on the work of two or three other students. You will receive their drafts on the day when your draft is due. You will turn in your written comments at the writing workshop.

Please note that the active participation in the writing workshop is REQUIRED in order to pass the class. Detailed instructions about the writing workshop will be distributed during the term and made available on my homepage at


CLASS REFLECTOR: a class reflector () has been set up up for general announcements. Notice that, if you do not use your ePanther/alpha account regularly, it is your responsibility to make sure that your UWM mail is forwarded to your preferred email account (for instructions on UWM ePanther accounts go to


Academic Misconduct Policy: see

Drop/Audit Policy: Students will be allowed to drop the course up through the last day permitted by the Registrar. Likewise, students may elect to audit the course up through the last day permitted by the Registrar

Grievance and Appeals Policy: The Department of Philosophy has procedures for handling student grievance and grade-appeals. Information is available in the Department office, 612 Curtin Hall

Special Assistance: If you need special assistance, please contact me the first day of class


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