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Philosophy of Science for Biologists


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Table of Contents

1. Why should biologists care about philosophy of science? Tobias Uller and Kostas Kampourakis; 2. What constitutes an explanation in biology? Angela Potochnik; 3. What is biological knowledge? Kevin McCain; 4. What is the nature of theories and models in biology? Emily Parke and Anya Plutynski; 5. How are biology concepts used and transformed? Ingo Brigandt; 6. Why does it matter that many biology concepts are metaphors? Kostas Kampourakis; 7. How do concepts contribute to scientific advancement? Evolutionary biology as a case study David Depew; 8. How can conceptual analysis contribute to scientific practice? The case of cultural evolution Tim Lewens; 9. What methods do life scientists use? A brief history with philosophical implications Erik L. Peterson; 10. Is it possible to scientifically reconstruct the history of life on earth? The biological sciences and deep time Carol Cleland; 11. What is the basis of biological classification? The search for natural systems Thomas Reydon; 12. What is the nature of scientific controversies in the biological sciences? Michael R. Dietrich; 13. What is the relation between facts and values in biological science? Biology in society Carrie Friese and Barbara Prainsack; 14. A philosopher in the age of creationism: What have I learned after fifty years doing philosophy of biology that I want to pass on to biologists Michael Ruse; 15. How can we teach philosophy of science to biologists? Kostas Kampourakis and Tobias Uller.

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A short and accessible introduction to philosophy of science for students and researchers across the life sciences.

About the Author

Kostas Kampourakis is the author and editor of books about evolution, genetics, philosophy, and history of science, and the editor of the Cambridge book series Understanding Life. He is a former Editor-in-Chief of the journal Science & Education, and the book series Science: Philosophy, History and Education. He is currently a researcher at the University of Geneva, where he also teaches at the Section of Biology and the University Institute for Teacher Education (http://kampourakis.com). Tobias Uller is Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Lund University, Sweden. He works on the relationships between development, heredity and evolution, using an integrative approach guided by mathematical modelling and conceptual analysis. He has held fellowships in the UK, the USA, and Sweden, and was the 2018 recipient of the Tage Erlander Prize, awarded by the Royal Swedish Academy of Science for research in Natural Sciences and Technology.


'As a philosopher and a biologist I have been waiting for a long time for a book like this to come out. My students will learn a lot from it.' Massimo Pigliucci, K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy, City College of New York
'Philosophy of Science for Biologists is a much-awaited book written for biologists, mainly for curious and open-minded biology students. Presenting a broad spectrum of perspectives and many fascinating examples from all areas of biology, the fifteen essays in this book offer a broad and exciting vista of biological ideas, their scope, their ambitions and their potential prejudices. The essays illustrate how a multiplicity of perspectives and methodologies can be combined to answer difficult questions, encouraging cooperation, healthy skepticism and necessary optimism. It should be the basis of an obligatory course for all biology students.' Eva Jablonka, Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv University
'Historically, few biologists have recognized the valuable contributions that philosophy could make to their field. Finally, that is starting to change. In this landmark collection of essays from leading thinkers, Kampourakis and Uller provide the clearest summary yet of the philosophy that biologists really need to know if they want to be outstanding scientists who see the bigger picture.' Kevin N. Laland, Professor of Behavioural and Evolutionary Biology, University of St Andrews
'Biologists do not simply uncover knowledge about the natural world, they build it, using concepts and classification schemes to frame their observations and experimental tests, and sifting the results so as to explain certain aspects of that enormously complex world. In this unusual volume, Uller and Kampourakis - a leading evolutionary biologist, and an accomplished critic of science and science education - call on biologists to carefully examine not just what they think, but how they think, by directly engaging with the philosophical issues that are imbedded in their scientific practice. The book will be of unique value to working biologists who seek to clarify their scientific aims and sharpen their concepts, research approaches, and analytical tools.' Sonia E. Sultan, Biology Department, Wesleyan University, Connecticut
'... offers a collection of essays written by philosophy inclined scientists and science-minded philosophers who foster close connections to practicing scientists ... The volume is not only a collection of several articles that can be read separately as introductory readings to a particular topic, there is also merit in reading this volume front to back. The contents are arranged carefully and communicate with each other by directly referencing other works in the volume and by implicitly establishing continuity across the chapters ... [It] will come in handy for everyone looking for well-written, accessible introductions to some of the most exciting topics in the philosophy of biology.' Sophie Juliane Veigl, Acta Biotheoretica
'... authors, make their case for the utility of the philosophy of science to the diverse community of students, teachers, and researchers pursuing careers in biology. The perspective is invigorating, offering insights to help biologists refine their thinking, even in fields with which they are most knowledgeable, and in particular to enhance how they might communicate science more effectively to a broader audience. This work celebrates the achievements, significance, and the potential of the biological sciences and is well worth reading.' Z. B. Johnson, Choice
'... Philosophy of Science for Biologists delivers on its promise of presenting a highly readable, up-to-date overview of contemporary philosophy of science for biologists. Moreover, some of its chapters offer good contextualized case studies that could also be used for teaching philosophy of biology to philosophers.' Guido I. Prieto, Journal for General Philosophy of Science
'... the editors assembled a 'dream-team' of experts in philosophy of biology to write accessible overviews of their specialized research topics that can be read in one sitting and can be used as assigned readings to facilitate discussion... Since each essay has a narrow focus on a particular problem, the volume manages to strike an impressive balance between breadth and depth... The essays are clear and accessible, and yet, admirably, they do not sacrifice philosophical precision and rigor. As a result, many of the essays turn out to be engaging overviews for philosophers and non-philosophers alike. The volume also knows its audience the essays are written to preempt typical 'triggers' that lead scientists to disregard philosophy, such as that philosophical thinking is 'too abstract,' or that it is merely for idle hours ... Having a resource like this is incredibly useful for initiating engagement across philosophy and biology, and it is an especially valuable resource for teaching.' Peter Woodford, Metascience
'... this book is a success ... the book by and large achieves its aims, and could be a base volume for a philosophy pf science course geared towards biologists. ' Aaron Novick, The Quarterly Review of Biology
'... I can strongly recommend this book to PhD students as well as senior scientists, working in all branches of ecology. It nicely demonstrates that philosophers of science today usually do not regard themselves as 'guardians over good scientific practice', ready to set rules on how scientists should do their job. Rather, the main interest is in understanding how scientific practice works. The chapters thus provide a great 'view from the outside' ... [it] offers inspiring insights into hot topics of philosophy of science with high relevance also for ecologists. And the presumably most convincing advantage of it being an edited volume is that you could start with any one chapter that seems interesting - then, most likely, you will want to read more.' Tina Heger, Basic and Applied Ecology
'... Philosophy of Science for Biologists and the collection as a whole will come in handy for everyone looking for well-written, accessible introductions to some of the most exciting topics in the philosophy of biology. The ideas conveyed can undoubtedly be helpful for aspiring biologists.' Sophie Juliane Veigl, Acta Biotheoretica

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