Philosophy of biology can seem like a dauntingly vast field, so what should one read? Well, as a starting point, there’s Labster Roberta Millstein‘s History and Philosophy of Biology Resources, which includes, among many other things, a list of philosophy of biology-related entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Also, the University of Cambridge Department of History and Philosophy of Science Research Guide to the Philosophy of Biology—assembled by Tim Lewens—provides recommended readings for various phil bio subfields.

Additionally, Labsters keep individual (and possibly collective) reading lists, which they will (may?) keep updated here.

General Future Reading List

  • Ian Hacking – “Natural Kinds: Rosy Dawn, Scholastic Twilight”




Labster Lists

Shawn’s Top 33 Philosophy of Biology Articles

The following is a collection of influential and important phil bio articles. It is meant as a sort of faux comprehensive exam reading list, and so is intended to be more canonical than idiosyncratic, though, of course, it cannot pretend to be definitive.

Note: Links to PDFs only work for Labsters with access to UCD library databases, though the papers are easy to come by.

  1. Beatty, John “The Evolutionary Contingency Thesis,” Sober, 3rd edition, pp. 217–248. [pdf]
  2. Cummins, Robert “Functional Analysis,” Journal of Philosophy 72 (1975), 741-765, Reprinted in Sober, 2nd ed., pp. 49–69. [pdf]
  3. Ghiselin, Michael T. “A radical solution to the species problem.” Systematic Biology 23, no. 4 (1974): 536-544. [pdf]
  4. Gould, Steven Jay and Richard Lewontin, “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptationist Programme.” in Sober, 2nd. ed, pp. 73-90; 3rd ed., pp. 79–98. [pdf]
  5. Griesemer, James. “Development, culture, and the units of inheritance.” Philosophy of Science (2000): S348-S368. [pdf]
  6. Griesemer, James R., and Michael J. Wade. “Laboratory models, causal explanation and group selection.” Biology and Philosophy 3, no. 1 (1988): 67-96. [pdf]
  7. Hrdy, Sarah Blaffer “Empathy, Polyandry, and the Myth of the Coy Female,” in Ruth Bleier, ed., Feminist Approaches to Science (Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 1986), pp. 119-146. Reprinted in Janet A. Kourany, ed., The Gender of Science, (Prentice Hall, 2002), and in Sober, 3rd ed., pp. 131–160. [pdf]
  8. Hull, David L. “Are species really individuals?” Systematic Biology 25, no. 2 (1976): 174-191. [pdf]
  9. Kitcher, Philip. “1953 and all that. A tale of two sciences.” The Philosophical Review 93, no. 3 (1984): 335-373. [pdf]
  10. Laland, Kevin, John Odling-Smee, and Marcus W. Feldman, “Niche construction, Biological Evolution and Cultural Change.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 23 (2000), pp. 131–175. [pdf]
  11. Lewontin, R. C. “The analysis of variance and the analysis of causes.” International Journal of Epidemiology 35, no. 3 (2006): 520-525. [pdf]
  12. Lewontin, Richard C. “Gene, Organism and Environment” S. Oyama, P. Griffiths, and R. D. Gray, eds., Cycles of Contingency (MIT Press, 2001), pp. 55–66.
  13. Lewontin, Richard C. “The units of selection.” Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 1 (1970): 1-18. [pdf]
  14. Longino, Helen E. “Can there be a feminist science.” Feminism & Science (1989): 46-57. [pdf]
  15. Lloyd, Elisabeth A. “Pre-theoretical assumptions in evolutionary explanations of female sexuality.” Philosophical Studies 69, no. 2 (1993): 139-153. [pdf]
  16. Lloyd, Elisabeth A. “Confirmation of ecological and evolutionary models.” Biology and Philosophy 2, no. 3 (1987): 277-293. [pdf]
  17. Machamer, Peter, Lindley Darden, and Carl F. Craver. “Thinking about mechanisms.” Philosophy of Science (2000): 1-25. [pdf]
  18. Mayr, Ernst. “Typological versus Population Thinking,” in Sober, 2nd ed., 157–160; 3rd ed., pp.325–328. [pdf]
  19. Mills, Susan K. and John H. Beatty, “The Propensity Interpretation of Fitness,” in Sober, 2nd ed., pp. 3–24; 3rd ed., pp. 3–24. [pdf]
  20. Millstein, Roberta L. (2006), “Natural Selection as a Population-Level Causal Process,” The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57(4): 627-653. [pdf]
  21. Millstein, Roberta L. (2002), “Are Random Drift and Natural Selection Conceptually Distinct?” Biology and Philosophy 17(1):33-53. [pdf]
  22. Rosenberg, Alexander. “Instrumental Biology or the Disunity of Science.” (The University of Chicago Press, 1994), Chs. 1–2.
  23. Skipper, Robert A. and Millstein, Roberta L. (2005) “Thinking about Evolutionary Mechanisms: Natural Selection,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 36(2): 327-347. Special edition on Mechanisms in Biology, edited by C.F. Craver and L. Darden. [pdf]
  24. Sober, Elliott, and Richard C. Lewontin. “Artifact, cause and genic selection.” Philosophy of Science (1982): 157-180. [pdf]
  25. Sober, Elliott. “The Nature of Selection” (The University of Chicago Press, 1984), Ch. 3,
  26. Star, Susan Leigh, and James R. Griesemer. “Institutional ecology,translations’ and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907-39.” Social Studies of Science 19, no. 3 (1989): 387-420. [pdf]
  27. Sterelny, Kim, and Philip Kitcher. “The return of the gene.” The Journal of Philosophy 85, no. 7 (1988): 339-361. [pdf]
  28. Waters, C. Kenneth. “Genes made molecular.” Philosophy of Science (1994): 163-185. [pdf]
  29. Watson, James D., and F. H. C. Crick. “Molecular structure of nucleic acids: A structure for deoxyribose nucleic acid.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences-Paper Edition 758 (1995): 12. [pdf]
  30. Williams, George C. “Adaptation and Natural Selection.” (Princeton University Press, 1966), Introduction, Ch.2.. pp. 3–19, 20–55.
  31. Wilson, David Sloan “Levels of Selection,” in Sober, 2nd ed., pp. 143–154; 3rd ed., 63–78. [pdf]
  32. Wimsatt, William C. “Genes, memes, and cultural heredity.” Biology and Philosophy 14, no. 2 (1999): 279-310. [pdf]
  33. Wright, Larry “Functions.” Philosophical Review 82 (1973), pp. 139–168. Reprinted in Sober, 2nd ed., pp. 27–48. [pdf]

at UC Davis