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

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TUESDAY, JULY 7  /  17:30 - 19:00  /  DS-1420
Individual papers
Grappling with Species

Towards an old-fashioned account of reference for biological species names

Jerzy Brzozowski** (Universidade Federal da Fronteira Sul, Brazil)

In this paper, I sketch and defend a Frege--Dummettian (FD) account of reference for biological species names. This theory is intended as an alternative to the long-held causal-historical account first defended by Ghiselin and Hull as a consequence of their species-as-individuals thesis. According to the FD account, the reference of a species name is a function of its criterion of application, derived from a code of nomenclature, and a criterion of identity, drawn from a species concept. After presenting the theory, I suggest some lines of inquiry where it can be employed.

De-extinction and the conception of species

Leonard Finkelman (Linfield College, United States)

Charles Darwin asserted in his Origin of Species that once a species goes extinct, “the same identical form never reappears.” Geneticists seem to stand on the verge of proving Darwin wrong on that count: with new cloning techniques, we may soon engineer new members of extinct species. This process, popularly dubbed “de-extinction,” promises to resurrect species such as the mammoth, thylacine, and passenger pigeon. Darwin’s claim and the geneticists’ promise both depend on metaphysical commitments regarding the nature of species. I examine this intersection between de-extinction and the species problem. Successful resurrection of a species through de-extinction requires that the cloned organism be a member of the same species, but not all species concepts accommodate such an idea. I describe two suggested means of de-extinction—somatic cell nuclear transfer of genetic material from an extinct species and re-engineering of genetic material from an extant species—and elaborate the relevant properties of species resurrected through these means. I then compare these properties with the species concepts currently under consideration in the Philosophy of Biology literature. I argue that species concepts accommodating de-extinction are those traditionally considered inconsistent with evolution by natural selection. Without endorsing any of these species concepts, I suggest how research in Philosophy of Biology and de-extinction technologies might influence one another in the future.

Species are probabilistic processes

Beckett Sterner (University of Michigan, United States)

Nearly every method in phylogenetics today depends on statistical consistency: as we add more character data from contemporary taxa, our estimate of evolutionary history will converge on the true answer. Statistical consistency does not come for free, however. Our ability to know evolutionary history depends on objective facts about how species change over time. The dominant metaphysical accounts of species as individuals or kinds do not address this epistemic demand, and I argue that we need to augment these accounts to capture the probabilistic nature of species. I discuss different ways of interpreting the probabilities involved in phylogenetic models, including deterministic views, and I argue that a strongly subjective interpretation will not suffice. The character of metaphysical argument I give here aims to explicate the full normative commitments that biologists make about the nature of species in the course of their research practices. In this manner, the epistemic constraint of knowing evolutionary history illuminates an under-recognized aspect of the ontology of species.