Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Philosophy of Biology (Princeton University Press), may not sound like the kind of book even science enthusiasts want to crack open for pleasure, but it’s a great way to get up to speed on all the issues that working biologists love to debate amongst themselves.
Godfrey-Smith is a professor in the Philosophy Program at City University of New York. His more academic books include, Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection (Oxford University Press), and Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (University of Chicago Press). His main areas of interest include the philosophy of mind and pragmatism.
In just 200 pages, Philosophy of Biology includes short, succinct chapters on mechanisms and models, natural selection, genes, adaptation and function, species and the Tree of Life, evolution and social behavior, and information.
But as I mentioned in my last post, the question for many science geeks is: why even bother with a book on philosophy at all–let alone the philosophy of science?
What good is it?
So, I asked Scott Carson, an associate professor of philosophy at Ohio University*, what he tells his students at the start of each semester.
Carson’s main areas of interest are the history of evolutionary biology and the biomedical sciences, and among his publications is this fascinating essay he co-authored on how quantum indeterminacy may effect evolution.
“Typically,” he said via email, “I tell my students that philosophy of science is important because we live in a society that is very much a product of what Bas Van Fraassen called ‘The Scientific Image’. That is, we are, as persons, largely shaped by the culture that surrounds us and we are presently surrounded by a culture that is increasingly impacted by science and technology.
“If we are to be intelligent and well-informed members of the society and culture in which we find ourselves, it is essential that we understand not only the results of scientific research, but the foundations of science itself.”
In Carson’s view, this will put us in a better position to evaluate questions about the nature of the authority of the sciences and the reliability of the conclusions and recommendations made by scientists.
“Ideally a philosopher of science is not someone who hopes to make any positive contributions to the working sciences,” he said, “but someone who is interested in answering philosophical questions that are informed by the discoveries of the sciences and who wants to describe and assess scientific practice as accurately as possible.”
In terms of the current book, he added, “I think you will find that this is very close to what Godfrey-Smith believes is the proper function of the philosopher of science.”
Read on @Forbes