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Unit information: Philosophy of Biology in 2018/19

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Philosophy of Biology
Unit code PHILM0006
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Okasha
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of Philosophy
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will enable students to gain a good understanding of concepts and theories in evolutionary biology, and should be in a position to apply this knowledge in assessing the implications of modern biotechnology. Issues to be discussed in the seminars will include: the logical structure of evolutionary theory; the notions of fitness and adaptation; alternative conceptions of 'gene'; debates about the units of selection; the nature and individuation of species; theories of classification.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit, students should:

  1. Have knowledge and understanding of core issues in philosophy of biology, understand the central topics in the philosophy of biology, appreciate the extent to which traditional philosophical concerns are illuminated by work in the biological sciences, and understand foundational and methodological problems in contemporary biology.
  2. Be able to conduct independent research into a new topic, using online and library resources, analyze and understand difficult philosophical texts, and write clear academic prose.

Teaching details

2 x 1-hour lecture + 1-hour seminar each week + essay tutorials

Assessment Details

One essay of 5,000-6,000 words (excluding notes and bibliography)

Reading and References


Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker

  • Griffiths, P. Sex and Death: an Introduction to Philosophy of Biology.
  • Rosenberg, A and D. McShea, Philosophy of Biology: a contemporary introduction.
  • Sober, E. Philosophy of Biology.
  • Sober, E. (ed.) Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology.
  • Hull, D., and M Ruse (eds.) Philosophy of Biology.

Further biological detail can be found in Mark Ridley’s book Evolution (Blackwell 2003).