International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

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MONDAY, JULY 6  /  09:00 - 10:30  /  DS-M440
Individual papers
Species of Consequence? Multiple Perspectives

Animals of consequence: Natural symbols

Emily Hutcheson (Florida State University, United States)

Are some non-human animals more consequential than others? Or, on the other hand, are they merely tools within the human toolbox which man uses to subdue and lessen the grandeur of nature? The first portion of the paper explores how nature writers - namely David Thoreau and Aldo Leopold - utilized animals to portray their thoughts on the distinction between wild and unwild- things worth protecting and things worth altering. Most authors who engaged with the idea of nature writing in previous eras conceived of animals as consequential beings, symbols of our evolutionary history and of the ideal communion with nature. Synecdochically, Thoreau in Walden and Leopold in Sand County Almanac repeatedly feature animals, both wild and domestic, to symbolize quintessential nature. Far from being the only authors to do so, their not identical literary usage of “animals of consequence” highlights their personal philosophies of nature, wildness, and the man to nature relationship. Conversely, more recent nature-writers, even those who esteem to follow Thoreauvian values, utilize animals only as objects of nature-subjugation. The optimal purpose of Nature, and the human position in relation to Nature in the American mind can be clearly found in the author’s position on animals, and reflects the preservation versus management philosophies of the authors and the time periods. This paper explores the historic precedent in nature-writing and biological research - namely genetics and neuroscience - through which some species are deemed consequential and others considered to be useless. The semantics of species - and speciation - combined with the capricious tendencies of some historical actors pair to create an interesting story of how we humans have valued and devalued some creatures to the point of no return.

Contrasting approaches in mitochondrial evolution: Implications for the tree of life debate

Thomas Bonnin (University of Exeter, United Kingdom)

Through this talk I will reflect upon a controversy in evolutionary biology: the origin of mitochondria. This ongoing debate has been polarized between two camps. On one side, the proponents of the ‘hydrogen hypothesis’ led by William Martin, opposing Thomas Cavalier-Smith and his ‘phagotrophic hypothesis’ on the other. The discussion of the origin of this organelle is not an isolated scientific theory. Instead, both camps have their scenario embedded in an interdependent set of stories they defend, that browse from the origin of life to the origin of eukaryotes. These ensembles, to which the origin of mitochondria comes as a conclusion, are supported by different kinds of data, common data being interpreted differently and incompatible assumptions. Philosophy of biology discussions could also be influenced by one of the camp, as is the case with the numerous interventions of William Martin and colleagues on the tree of life debate. Taking a close look at the scientific and philosophical discussions stemming from this controversy, my work tries to demarcate and contrast both camps’ philosophical assumptions. This will allow us to determine on which philosophical ground both positions are built in the ‘evolution of mitochondria’ scenario and why they have been so far incompatible. This will also help us achieving a reappraisal of Cavalier-Smith’s mostly neglected work in the discussions of the tree of life topic, and see what his position can bring to the current discussions.

Species, scientific realism, and historical essences

Marion Godman (Helsinki University, Finland)

Natural kinds are thought to be an important asset for those who want to defend scientific realism in the special science domains (e.g. Kornblith 1991, Boyd 1991; Khalidi 2012). Essential natures are less in vogue. Many scientific realists want to dispense of essentialist requirements for natural kinds, while only a few dissidents maintain that abandoning essential natures might actually undermine scientific realism (Devitt 2005). The key case for the debate is biological species. While a dominant view holds that species might be natural kinds but lack essential natures (e.g. Sober 1980; Dupré 1993), some have argued that species do in fact have historical rather than intrinsic essential natures (Griffiths 1999; Millikan 1999). However replacing intrinsic essences with historical essences might come at a price since historical essences are relational. As such it has been suggested that they fail to do the epistemic and ontological work traditionally assigned to intrinsic essences and which is required for a scientific realism (Okasha 2002; Devitt 2008). This paper tries to counter this pessimism with respect to historical essences by arguing that they do have the right epistemic and ontological credentials that can underwrite defences of scientific realism. I begin by motivating why natural kinds with essential natures should matter for those wishing to defend a scientific realism. This also leads to specifying two basic jobs for essential natures: one which has to do with providing individuation criteria of kinds and the other for offering causal explanations of projectable properties. This sets the scene for asking: do species have any properties that can perform these roles? I ague that while the intrinsic essentialist strategy falls short with respect to both individuating and causally explaining kinds, the historical essentialist strategy is fit for task. I conclude that historical essential natures of natural kinds like species can support a scientific realism.