•  2163
    Evolutionary debunking arguments in three domains: Fact, value, and religion
    with John S. Wilkins
    In James Maclaurin Greg Dawes (ed.), A New Science of Religion, Routledge. 2012.
    Ever since Darwin people have worried about the sceptical implications of evolution. If our minds are products of evolution like those of other animals, why suppose that the beliefs they produce are true, rather than merely useful? We consider this problem for beliefs in three different domains: religion, morality, and commonsense and scientific claims about matters of empirical fact. We identify replies to evolutionary scepticism that work in some domains but not in others. One reply is that ev…Read more
  •  1076
    Developmental systems theory (DST) is a wholeheartedly epigenetic approach to development, inheritance and evolution. The developmental system of an organism is the entire matrix of resources that are needed to reproduce the life cycle. The range of developmental resources that are properly described as being inherited, and which are subject to natural selection, is far wider than has traditionally been allowed. Evolution acts on this extended set of developmental resources. From a developmental…Read more
  •  548
    Developmental Systems Theory as a Process Theory
    In Daniel J. Nicholson & John Dupre (eds.), Everything Flows: Towards a Processual Philosophy of Biology, Oxford University Press. pp. 00-00. forthcoming.
    Griffiths and Russell D. Gray (1994, 1997, 2001) have argued that the fundamental unit of analysis in developmental systems theory should be a process – the life cycle – and not a set of developmental resources and interactions between those resources. The key concepts of developmental systems theory, epigenesis and developmental dynamics, both also suggest a process view of the units of development. This chapter explores in more depth the features of developmental systems theory that favour tre…Read more
  •  534
    Evolution, Dysfunction, and Disease: A Reappraisal: Table 1
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 69 (2): 301-327. 2018.
    Some ‘naturalist’ accounts of disease employ a biostatistical account of dysfunction, whilst others use a ‘selected effect’ account. Several recent authors have argued that the biostatistical account offers the best hope for a naturalist account of disease. We show that the selected effect account survives the criticisms levelled by these authors relatively unscathed, and has significant advantages over the BST. Moreover, unlike the BST, it has a strong theoretical rationale and can provide subs…Read more
  •  470
    What is innateness?
    The Monist 85 (1): 70-85. 2001.
    In behavioral ecology some authors regard the innateness concept as irretrievably confused whilst others take it to refer to adaptations. In cognitive psychology, however, whether traits are 'innate' is regarded as a significant question and is often the subject of heated debate. Several philosophers have tried to define innateness with the intention of making sense of its use in cognitive psychology. In contrast, I argue that the concept is irretrievably confused. The vernacular innateness conc…Read more
  •  405
    A Developmental Systems Account of Human Nature
    In Tim Lewens & Elizabeth Hannon (eds.), Why we disagree about human nature, Oxford University Press. pp. 00-00. 2018.
    It is now widely accepted that a scientifically credible conception of human nature must reject the folkbiological idea of a fixed, inner essence that makes us human. We argue here that to understand human nature is to understand the plastic process of human development and the diversity it produces. Drawing on the framework of developmental systems theory and the idea of developmental niche construction we argue that human nature is not embodied in only one input to development, such as the gen…Read more
  •  387
    We describe an approach to measuring biological information where ‘information’ is understood in the sense found in Francis Crick’s foundational contributions to molecular biology. Genes contain information in this sense, but so do epigenetic factors, as many biologists have recognized. The term ‘epigenetic’ is ambiguous, and we introduce a distinction between epigenetic and exogenetic inheritance to clarify one aspect of this ambiguity. These three heredity systems play complementary roles in s…Read more
  •  362
    Biological Information, Causality and Specificity - an Intimate Relationship
    In Sara Imari Walker, Paul Davies & George Ellis (eds.), From Matter to Life: Information and Causality, Cambridge University Press. pp. 366-390. 2017.
    In this chapter we examine the relationship between biological information, the key biological concept of specificity, and recent philosophical work on causation. We begin by showing how talk of information in the molecular biosciences grew out of efforts to understand the sources of biological specificity. We then introduce the idea of ‘causal specificity’ from recent work on causation in philosophy, and our own, information theoretic measure of causal specificity. Biological specificity, we ar…Read more
  •  338
    Genes in the postgenomic era
    Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 27 (6): 499-521. 2006.
    We outline three very different concepts of the gene—instrumental, nominal, and postgenomic. The instrumental gene has a critical role in the construction and interpretation of experiments in which the relationship between genotype and phenotype is explored via hybridization between organisms or directly between nucleic acid molecules. It also plays an important theoretical role in the foundations of disciplines such as quantitative genetics and population genetics. The nominal gene is a critica…Read more
  •  328
    Darwinism, process structuralism, and natural kinds
    Philosophy of Science 63 (3). 1996.
    Darwinists classify biological traits either by their ancestry (homology) or by their adaptive role. Only the latter can provide traditional natural kinds, but only the former is practicable. Process structuralists exploit this embarrassment to argue for non-Darwinian classifications in terms of underlying developmental mechanisms. This new taxonomy will also explain phylogenetic inertia and developmental constraint. I argue that Darwinian homologies are natural kinds despite having historical e…Read more
  •  316
    Genetic information: A metaphor in search of a theory
    Philosophy of Science 68 (3): 394-412. 2001.
    John Maynard Smith has defended against philosophical criticism the view that developmental biology is the study of the expression of information encoded in the genes by natural selection. However, like other naturalistic concepts of information, this ‘teleosemantic’ information applies to many non-genetic factors in development. Maynard Smith also fails to show that developmental biology is concerned with teleosemantic information. Some other ways to support Maynard Smith’s conclusion are consi…Read more
  •  299
    Functional analysis and proper functions
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44 (3): 409-422. 1993.
    The etiological approach to ‘proper functions’ in biology can be strengthened by relating it to Robert Cummins' general treatment of function ascription. The proper functions of a biological trait are the functions it is assigned in a Cummins-style functional explanation of the fitness of ancestors. These functions figure in selective explanations of the trait. It is also argued that some recent etiological theories include inaccurate accounts of selective explanation in biology. Finally, a gene…Read more
  •  291
    Basic Emotions, Complex Emotions, Machiavellian Emotions
    Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 52 39-67. 2003.
    The current state of knowledge in psychology, cognitive neuroscience and behavioral ecology allows a fairly robust characterization of at least some, so-called ?basic emotions? - short-lived emotional responses with homologues in other vertebrates. Philosophers, however are understandably more focused on the complex emotion episodes that figure in folk-psychological narratives about mental life, episodes such as the evolving jealousy and anger of a person in an unraveling sexual relationship. On…Read more
  •  274
    How biologists conceptualize genes: an empirical study
    with Karola Stotz and Rob Knight
    Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 35 (4): 647-673. 2004.
    Philosophers and historians of biology have argued that genes are conceptualized differently in different fields of biology and that these differences influence both the conduct of research and the interpretation of research by audiences outside the field in which the research was conducted. In this paper we report the results of a questionnaire study of how genes are conceptualized by biological scientists at the University of Sydney, Australia. The results provide tentative support for some hy…Read more
  •  272
    The importance of homology for biology and philosophy
    Biology and Philosophy 22 (5): 633-641. 2007.
    Editors' introduction to the special issue on homology (Biology and Philosophy Vol. 22, Issue 5, 2007)
  •  263
    Developmental systems and evolutionary explanation
    with R. D. Gray
    Journal of Philosophy 91 (6): 277-304. 1994.
  •  257
    Evolutionary Psychology: History and Current Status
    In Jessica Pfeifer & Sahotra Sarkar (eds.), The Philosophy of Science: An Encyclopedia, Routledge. pp. 263--268. 2006.
    The development of evolutionary approaches to psychology from Classical Ethology through Sociobiology to Evolutionary Psychology is outlined and the main tenets of today's Evolutionary Psychology briefly examined: the heuristic value of evolutionary thinking for psychology, the massive modularity thesis and the monomorphic mind thesis.
  •  239
    The idea that development is the expression of information accumulated during evolution and that heredity is the transmission of this information is surprisingly hard to cash out in strict, scientific terms. This paper seeks to do so using the sense of information introduced by Francis Crick in his sequence hypothesis and central dogma of molecular biology. It focuses on Crick's idea of precise determination. This is analysed using an information-theoretic measure of causal specificity. This all…Read more
  •  232
    What is the developmentalist challenge?
    with Robin D. Knight
    Philosophy of Science 65 (2): 253-258. 1998.
  •  229
  •  224
    The vernacular concept of innateness
    with Edouard Machery and Stefan Linquist
    Mind and Language 24 (5): 605-630. 2009.
    The proposal that the concept of innateness expresses a 'folk biological' theory of the 'inner natures' of organisms was tested by examining the response of biologically naive participants to a series of realistic scenarios concerning the development of birdsong. Our results explain the intuitive appeal of existing philosophical analyses of the innateness concept. They simultaneously explain why these analyses are subject to compelling counterexamples. We argue that this explanation undermines t…Read more
  •  216
    How the mind grows: A developmental perspective on the biology of cognition
    with Paul E. Griffiths and Karola Stotz
    Synthese 122 (1-2): 29-51. 2000.
    The 'developmental systems' perspective in biology is intended to replace the idea of a genetic program. This new perspective is strongly convergent with recent work in psychology on situated/embodied cognition and on the role of external 'scaffolding' in cognitive development. Cognitive processes, including those which can be explained in evolutionary terms, are not 'inherited' or produced in accordance with an inherited program. Instead, they are constructed in each generation through the inte…Read more
  •  215
    Experimental philosophy of science
    Philosophy Compass 3 (3). 2008.
    Experimental philosophy of science gathers empirical data on how key scientific concepts are understood by particular scientific communities. In this paper we briefly describe two recent studies in experimental philosophy of biology, one investigating the concept of the gene, the other the concept of innateness. The use of experimental methods reveals facts about these concepts that would not be accessible using the traditional method of intuitions about possible cases. It also contributes to th…Read more
  •  206
    Function, homology and character individuation
    Philosophy of Science 73 (1): 1-25. 2006.
    I defend the view that many biological categories are defined by homology against a series of arguments designed to show that all biological categories are defined, at least in part, by selected function. I show that categories of homology are `abnormality inclusive'—something often alleged to be unique to selected function categories. I show that classifications by selected function are logically dependent on classifications by homology, but not vice-versa. Finally, I reject the view that biolo…Read more
  •  185
    Signals that make a Difference
    with Brett Calcott and Arnaud Pocheville
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 2017.
    Recent work by Brian Skyrms offers a very general way to think about how information flows and evolves in biological networks — from the way monkeys in a troop communicate, to the way cells in a body coordinate their actions. A central feature of his account is a way to formally measure the quantity of information contained in the signals in these networks. In this paper, we argue there is a tension between how Skyrms talks of signalling networks and his formal measure of information. Although S…Read more
  •  179
    The misuse of Sober's selection for/selection of distinction
    with R. Goode
    Biology and Philosophy 10 (1): 99-108. 1995.
    Elliott Sober''s selection for/selection of distinction has been widely used to clarify the idea that some properties of organisms are side-effects of selection processes. It has also been used, however, to choose between different descriptions of an evolutionary product when assigning biological functions to that product. We suggest that there is a characteristic error in these uses of the distinction. Complementary descriptions of function are misrepresented as mutually excluding one another. …Read more
  •  166
    Gut reactions: A perceptual theory of emotion (review)
    British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 59 (3): 559-567. 2008.
  •  162
    Ethology, sociobiology and evolutionary psychology
    In Sahotra Sarkar & Anya Plutynski (eds.), A Companion to the Philosophy of Biology, Wiley/blackwell. pp. 393-414. 2011.
    In the years leading up to the Second World War the ethologists Konrad Lorenz and Nikolaas Tinbergen, created the tradition of rigorous, Darwinian research on animal behavior that developed into modern behavioral ecology. At first glance, research on specifically human behavior seems to exhibit greater discontinuity that research on animal behavior in general. The 'human ethology' of the 1960s appears to have been replaced in the early 1970s by a new approach called ‘sociobiology’. Sociobiology …Read more
  •  157
    The fearless vampire conservator: Phillip Kitcher and genetic determinism
    In Christoph Rehmann-Sutter & Eva M. Neumann-Held (eds.), Genes in Development: Rethinking the Molecular Paradigm, Duke University Press. pp. 175-198. 2006.
    Genetic determinism is the idea that many significant human characteristics are rendered inevitable by the presence of certain genes. The psychologist Susan Oyama has famously compared arguing against genetic determinism to battling the undead. Oyama suggests that genetic determinism is inherent in the way we currently represent genes and what genes do. As long as genes are represented as containing information about how the organism will develop, they will continue to be regarded as determining…Read more
  •  151
    Don’t Give Up on Basic Emotions
    with Andrea Scarantino
    Emotion Review 3 (4): 444-454. 2011.
    We argue that there are three coherent, nontrivial notions of basic-ness: conceptual basic-ness, biological basic-ness, and psychological basic-ness. There is considerable evidence for conceptually basic emotion categories (e.g., “anger,” “fear”). These categories do not designate biologically basic emotions, but some forms of anger, fear, and so on that are biologically basic in a sense we will specify. Finally, two notions of psychological basic-ness are distinguished, and the evidence for the…Read more