Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Peter Godfrey-Smith's "Philosophy of Biology"

Peter Godfrey-Smith is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center. He is the author of Theory and Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science and Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Philosophy of Biology, and reported the following:
Page 99 is the page that encounters one of the great challenges in writing a textbook in the philosophy of biology. Biology changes so quickly that everything one says risks quickly drifting out of date. But if you worry too much about that problem, you won't end up saying anything at all. Genetics is the part of biology that changes at the most breakneck pace, and on page 99 I try to say what the view of genetic systems emerging over the last few years tells us about the status of genes as objects and as causes.

Genes in the 20th century were treated, from an evolutionary point of view, as little competing particles, as objects with what Dawkins termed a "flintlike integrity." I think that the view of genomes and gene action that has developed over the last decade or two has taken us beyond that view; genomes are more organized than had been supposed, and as a result, individual genes have less reality as parts of genomes. The particle-like gene is receding, even from the more "zoomed-out" parts of biology, like evolutionary theory. But as the chapter about genes says in conclusion, who knows what the next 50, or 10, years of genetics will bring? In the light of this, I'm also going to keep Philosophy of Biology up to date by maintaining a website with updates, news, and additions. That site is here: http://philbiocoda.com/.

If you turn the page beyond page 99, you reach a topic just as contentious as genes and at the other end of the spatial scale: species.
Learn more about Philosophy of Biology at Peter Godfrey-Smith's website.

--Marshal Zeringue