CamPoS: Cambridge Philosophy of Science

Philosophy of Biology

The philosopher of biology can find plenty to stimulate and inspire in Cambridge. Darwin studied here, and the University still houses the fabulous Darwin Correspondence Project. Watson and Crick made their contributions to the elucidation of DNA’s double helical structure a stone’s throw from the Department of History and Philosophy of Science. These are perhaps Cambridge’s best-known claims to biological fame; but Cambridge is also the place where  R. A. Fisher propounded the theoretical foundations of population genetics, it is the place where much of the human genome was sequenced, it is the home of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology and its numerous Nobel Laureates. William Bateson, Reginald Punnett, and Conrad Hal Waddington all worked here. Cambridge’s life sciences departments continue to thrive today.

Cambridge also has a rather more recent, but influential, tradition in the philosophy of biology. Richard Braithwaite did his seminal work on explanation in biology here, and Nicholas Jardine completed foundational work on biological taxonomy before moving wholesale into the HPS fold. At one time or another, the likes of Elliott Sober, John Dupré, Paul Griffiths, and Denis Walsh have studied here.

Today, Cambridge hosts philosophers working on all aspects of the philosophy of biology from theoretical issues in social evolution to the historical development of the population/typological distinction; from the biological foundations of biomedical ethics to the notion of the organism in Immanuel Kant. Many of these researchers, funded through a large European Research Council project entitled ‘A Science of Human Nature?’, are looking at conceptual issues in cultural evolution.

Tim Lewens
October 2012