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Books I am reading/reviewing

Last updated on 8 Feb 2014

Despite marking scores of essays, after having taught a subject intensive, and preparing various papers, I get to review some books. This means reading them, familiarising myself with the technical literature, and so on. So I thought I’d do a brief summary of them for you now:

The first is this:

Khalidi

M. A. Khalidi, Natural Categories and Human Kinds: Classification in the Natural and Social Sciences

This is an excellent summary and discussion of the idea of natural kinds in science (and as such makes a nice companion piece to my book). Where I and my coauthor Malte Ebach approached the philosophy of classification from the perspective of the sciences, Khalidi approaches the sciences from the perspective of the natural kinds debate in philosophy. He discusses some issues, such as whether classes can “crosscut” other classes, what the status of kinds are in science and philosophy, and essentialism (which has been revived lately in the philosophy of science). In particular he rejects essentialist accounts of kinds because of their problem in inductive projectibility.

So far there are a few slips: he conflates Linnaean taxonomy with phylogeny, for instance. But it is a good book. I recommend it. The review will appear in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Philippse

God in the Age of Science?: A Critique of Religious Reason by Herman Philipse

Philipse addresses the standard arguments, and some not so standard recent arguments, for the rationality of belief in God. He specifically addresses Richard Swinburne’s arguments, and concludes that the most promising is a Bayesian account Swinburne proposes. He discusses reformed theology, which is often ignored by philosophers. Being a professor in a Dutch university (Utrecht), he is well placed to consider many of the theological arguments they present. As many of these underpin the evangelical apologetics found in the United States, this is significant. But he also spends considerable time dealing with the usual arguments for God’s existence, such as the cosmological argument that depends upon modal logics, as well as natural theological arguments.

Godfrey Smith

Philosophy of Biology (Princeton Foundations of Contemporary Philosophy) by Peter Godfrey-Smith

PGS, as he is known in the discipline, is perhaps the leading philosopher of biology today. One expects, then, that this will be a great book, and so it seems given a quick read. It looks like the lecture notes of a course, which is a good thing, since it presents an introduction to a complex field. I have quibbles, of course, but none of them are particularly telling. I would use this as a textbook in a course, as it offers a good summary of the issues and links to literature that the student can use to explained her knowledge.

Griffiths and Stotz

Genetics and Philosophy: An Introduction (Cambridge Introductions to Philosophy and Biology) by Paul Griffiths and Karola Stotz

This is an excellent and nuanced introduction to the philosophy and biology of genetics, including discussions of the idea of “gene”. They introduce a notion of genetic information – “Crick information” – which is basically the structural specificity of genes and their products. I recommend this book unreservedly, and will be discussing it in more detail later.

11 Comments

  1. Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

    How does PGS’s book compare to other philosophy of biology texts? Is it the best or are others better? If you were teaching a course, what would you use? I am always interested in a new look at the field.

    • It depends on how you teach it. The one by Grene is great for a historical approach:

      Grene, Marjorie Glicksman, and David J. Depew. 2004. The philosophy of biology: an episodic history, The evolution of modern philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

      A simple one which is not deep but is broad is:

      Garvey, Brian. 2007. Philosophy of biology, Philosophy and science. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

      But PGS’s is perhaps the most philosophical of these. He approaches it thematically and makes proper philosophical arguments. I’d probably use all three.

      • I’m not very knowledgeable about biology and certainly not about the philosophy of biology, but I am a philosophy student interested in the subject and have noted that my university has a course on the philosophy of biology. The course uses a book not yet mentioned here:

        Sterelny, K. och Griffiths, P.E, Sex and Death. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Biology. University of Chicago
        Press, 1999.

        I was wondering whether you know about the book or if you have read it and could comment on whether it’s a good introduction to the field.

        • It has been the standard reference for nearly 15 years. However, it’s now rather dated. You won’t go wrong reading it, but you’ll need to supplement it with a lot of additional reading.

          Kim and Paul are considering a revision, but I haven’t heard from them if they are doing this.

        • Okay, thanks for the info!

  2. Nicholas J. Matzke Nicholas J. Matzke

    You should read Alan de Queiroz, “The Monkey’s Voyage”, if you get a chance! You know many of the players I believe!

    • I’ve read excerpts, and been involved in discussions by said players about it. The response is equivocal.

      • Never heard of the book but this theme is used in some of my favorite barking mad moments of late 17th century natural history.

        It has an interesting history in the production of truly bad ideas.

  3. Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

    thanks

  4. Asgard Asgard

    I was intending to buy Philipse’s book but you don’t sound particularly ethusiastic about it. Do you recommend it as an intermediate level philosophy of religion book?

    • It is very good for what it is, possibly the most comprehensive book of its kind I have seen. I’m just unenthusiastic about the subject matter.

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