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What is the philosophy of biology?

Strictly speaking, philosophy of biology is not new because it has been part of philosophy since Aristotle (384—322 b.c.e.). However, recent thought about how living systems are different from the inert subject matter of physics and chemistry have resulted in new philosophies of biology as a distinct theoretical/philosophical subject. Moreover, social controversies, such as popular debates about creationism and evolution, and beliefs in individual self-determination versus genetic determinism, have injected new vitality into older issues in philosophy of biology.

What are some of the main themes in philosophy of biology?

Philosophers of biology are interested in how biological explanations differ in form from explanations in the other sciences regarding whether the behavior of living things can be predicted, and in how environment, genetics, and processes of development interact to result in organisms. They are also interested in evolutionary theory.

Useful texts in philosophy of biology include: Alexander Rosenberg, Structure of Biological Science (1985); Elliot Sober, The Nature of Selection (1984); and Michael Ruse, Philosophy of Biology (1973). Most contemporary philosophers of biology rely on Ernst Mayr's The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance (1982) and Towards a New Philosophy of Biology: Observations of an Evolutionist (1988). Additional thought by biologists have also resulted in new perspectives on biology that include work by: Patrick Bateson, Richard Dawkins, Jared Diamond, Stephen Jay Gould, Richard Lewontin, John Maynard Smith, and Edward O. Wilson. Also, evolutionary biology has inspired new philosophical systems of thought—for example, by Daniel Dennett.

Who is Daniel C. Dennett?

Daniel C. Dennett (1942—) is an American philosopher of mind and science. He is professor of philosophy at Tufts University and co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies there. He has been influential in combining cognitive science and evolutionary theory in philosophy of biology, most notably in these works: Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life (1996), Kinds of Minds: Towards an Understanding of Consciousness (1997), Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds (Representation and Mind) (1998), Freedom Evolves (2003), Sweet Dreams: Philosophical Obstacles to a Science of Consciousness (2005), and Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (2006). Dennett is also a supporter of the Brights Movement.

What is Daniel C. Dennett's philosophy of biology?

Dennett (1942—) engages evolutionary theory by asking the question, "Skyhooks or cranes?" Skyhooks are unexplained leaps from one stage of development to the next,

What is the Brights Movement?

The Brights Movement is committed to promoting public understanding and acknowledgment of the naturalistic world view. Chicago biology teacher Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell, an educator who is also a board of directors' member of the American Humanist Association and a former president of Atheists and Other Freethinkers, founded it in 2003. Futrell defined a "bright" as "an individual whose worldview is naturalistic (free from supernatural and mystical elements)."

The Brights Movement motto is "Illuminating and Elevating the Naturalistic Worldview." The organization has three major aims: promote public awareness of the naturalistic worldview, achieve recognition that individuals who hold this worldview can behave in principled ways in important civic matters, and educate all members of society to recognize and accept the participation of Brights.

whereas cranes are ways of understanding a later stage based on the design of an earlier one. Dennett has argued that consciousness, the contents of consciousness, and even the products of consciousness, such as Shakespeare's plays, can be naturalistically understood in the same way that physical evolution is understandable. Neural systems create "multiple drafts" of the same thing so that the brain itself is "a sort of dung heap in which the larvae of other people's ideas renew themselves." Dennett is also a proponent of the doctrine of "memes," whereby certain patterns of behavior are products of evolution that are physically inherited. His extreme materialism has attracted many critics, as well as supporters.

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