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Philosophy of Science

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Why We Should Reject Radical Enhancement

Proposals to make us smarter than the greatest geniuses or to add thousands of years to our life spans seem fit only for the spam folder or trash can. And yet this is what contemporary advocates of radical enhancement offer in all seriousness. They present a variety of technologies and therapies that will expand our capacities far beyond what is currently possible for human beings. In Humanity’s End, Nicholas Agar argues against radical enhancement, describing its destructive consequences.

Comparative Philosophical Perspectives

The notion of function is an integral part of thinking in both biology and technology; biological organisms and technical artifacts are both ascribed functionality. Yet the concept of function is notoriously obscure (with problematic issues regarding the normative and the descriptive nature of functions, for example) and demands philosophical clarification.

The Science Wars, Argumentation Theory, and Habermas

Recent years have seen a series of intense, increasingly acrimonious debates over the status and legitimacy of the natural sciences. These “science wars” take place in the public arena--with current battles over evolution and global warming--and in academia, where assumptions about scientific objectivity have been called into question. Given these hostilities, what makes a scientific claim merit our consideration? In Cogent Science in Context, William Rehg examines what makes scientific arguments cogent--that is, strong and convincing--and how we should assess that cogency.

How do novel scientific concepts arise? In Creating Scientific Concepts, Nancy Nersessian seeks to answer this central but virtually unasked question in the problem of conceptual change. She argues that the popular image of novel concepts and profound insight bursting forth in a blinding flash of inspiration is mistaken.

A Prolegomenon

Building a person has been an elusive goal in artificial intelligence. This failure, John Pollock argues, is because the problems involved are essentially philosophical; what is needed for the construction of a person is a physical system that mimics human rationality. Pollock describes an exciting theory of rationality and its partial implementation in OSCAR, a computer system whose descendants will literally be persons.

Contemporary Readings in Philosophy and Science

Emergence, largely ignored just thirty years ago, has become one of the liveliest areas of research in both philosophy and science. Fueled by advances in complexity theory, artificial life, physics, psychology, sociology, and biology and by the parallel development of new conceptual tools in philosophy, the idea of emergence offers a way to understand a wide variety of complex phenomena in ways that are intriguingly different from more traditional approaches.

From Theory to Practice

The twentieth century’s conceptual separation of the process of evolution (changes in a population as its members reproduce and die) from the process of development (changes in an organism over the course of its life) allowed scientists to study evolution without bogging down in the “messy details” of development. Advances in genetics produced the modern synthesis, which cast the gene as the unit of natural selection.

An Evolving Polarity

Genetically modified food, art in the form of a phosphorescent rabbit implanted with jellyfish DNA, and robots that simulate human emotion would seem to be evidence for the blurring boundary between the natural and the artificial. Yet because the deeply rooted concept of nature functions as a cultural value, a social norm, and a moral authority, we cannot simply dismiss the distinction between art and nature as a nostalgic relic.

Structures, Behaviors, Evolution

Abstract and conceptual models have become an indispensable tool for analyzing the flood of highly detailed empirical data generated in recent years by advanced techniques in the biosciences. Scientists are developing new modeling strategies for analyzing data, integrating results into the conceptual framework of theoretical biology, and formulating new hypotheses. In Modeling Biology, leading scholars investigate new modeling strategies in the domains of morphology, development, behavior, and evolution.

This book by distinguished philosopher Nicholas Rescher seeks to clarify the idea of what a conditional says by elucidating the information that is normally transmitted by its utterance. The result is a unified treatment of conditionals based on epistemological principles rather than the semantical principles in vogue over recent decades. This approach, argues Rescher, makes it easier to understand how conditionals actually function in our thought and discourse.

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