22010 Reduction and Teleology in Biology 1

Credits: 3 graduate credits in Biological Thought

Prerequisite: Admission to the graduate program in Biological Thought

This course, the second of three core courses in the program, is based on two readers edited by Simona Ginsburg and Sara Schwartz, and on books which change from semester to semester.

The aims of the course are twofold: (a) to discuss a central question in the philosophy of science the question of reduction and its unique aspects in biology; and (b) to present the central concept of teleology, which characterizes biological phenomena and their analysis.

Reduction and teleology are intertwined in the attempt to characterize biology and biological phenomena. At the outset of the course, the concept of reduction and its meaning are discussed with special reference to reduction as an explanation, reduction and science, types of reduction, and the concept of emergence. Next, the autonomy of biology is questioned, both ontologically and methodologically: Are biological phenomena reducible to physical-chemical processes? Is biology reducible to physics? The course then turns to the role of teleology in biology. It discusses teleological explanations versus causal explanations and proximate explanations versus ultimate ones. The importance of teleology in biology is highlighted by asking whether Darwinism demoted or merely transformed its status, and by comparing teleological explanations to functionalist or adaptationist explanations. The concept of teleonomy is presented, and various solutions to the problem of teleology are discussed.


1There is some overlap in the content of this and other courses. For details, see Overlapping Courses.