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::: center home >> events >> annual lecture series >> lectures 2008-09

49th annual lecture series, 2008-09

The Reality of Group Agency
Philip Pettit, Princeton University
Friday, 19 September 2008, 3:30 p.m.
817R Cathedral of Learning

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Abstract: There are different conceptions of agency available but the most plausible support three tests or criteria, which I describe as systematic perturbability, contextual resilience, and variable realization. Do groups that organize their aggregate performance so as to mimic individual agents count as real agents by these criteria? Do they replicate agency or merely simulate it? I argue that, if successfully organized, they count as real agents. The conclusion is not meant to be idle ontology; it has explanatory and normative significance.

The Uses of Infinity: A philosopher looks at emergent phenomena in physics
Jeremy Butterfield, University of Cambridge, Trinity College
Friday, November 14, 2008, 3:30 pm
817R Cathedral of Learning

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Abstract: ‘Emergence,’ and its contrary ‘reduction,’ are buzzwords in both physics and philosophy. Both physicists and philosophers disagree about the extent to which we can understand large-scale or complex phenomena in terms of their microscopic parts. Examples include both everyday phenomena like the freezing and boiling of liquids, and fancy ideas like fractals. I will pour some oil on these troubled waters--partly by the philosopher’s usual tactic of distinguishing different senses of the contentious terms! But I will also show that some cases of taking an infinite limit of a physical theory are cases of both emergence and reduction.

Teleology in Descartes’ Physiology
Karen Detlefsen, University of Pennsylvania, Philosophy
Friday, December 5, 2008, 3:30 pm
817R Cathedral of Learning

Abstract: In this paper, I argue for the following four points. First, Descartes needs a conception of living beings (as distinct from non-living beings) in order to isolate a class of entities which will serve as the subject matter for the life sciences – sciences which Descartes was himself engaged in for several decades of his working life. He cannot, that is, collapse living and non-living beings into a single kind (e.g. machines with no distinction among kinds of machines). Second, the conception of life to which Descartes must be committed is irreducibly teleological. Third, this teleological conception of life presents two tensions: (a) one with his many famous remarks prohibiting the use of teleology in natural philosophy, and (b) a second with what he says about living bodies in the Sixth Meditation. Fourth, Descartes had all the conceptual elements necessary to ease considerably the first tension by adopting a (then) wholly new form of teleology which would have avoided his criticism of the forms of teleology prominent in the 17 th century. It is less clear that he could have eased the second tension.

The Origin of the Universe and the Arrow of Time
Sean Carroll, California Institute of Technology, Physics
Friday, 20 February 2009, 3:30 p.m.
817R Cathedral of Learning

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Abstract: Over a century ago, Boltzmann and others provided a microscopic
understanding for the tendency of entropy to increase.  But this
understanding relies ultimately on an empirical fact about cosmology:
the early universe had a very low entropy.  Why was it like that?
Cosmologists aspire to provide a dynamical explanation for the
observed state of the universe, but have had very little to say about
the dramatic asymmetry between early times and late times.  I will
argue that the search for a natural explanation for the observed
breakdown of time-reversal symmetry in cosmology leads us directly to
interesting conclusions about inflation, quantum gravity, and the

The Relative Significance of Epigenetic Inheritance in Evolution
James Griesemer, University of California-Davis, Philosophy
Friday, 20 March 2009, 3:30 p.m.
817R Cathedral of Learning

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Abstract: The role of epigenetic inheritance in evolution is hotly contested. Some claim recently discovered epigenetic mechanisms of gene regulation constitute a non-genetic inheritance system that underwrites a "Lamarckian dimension" of inheritance and therefore of evolution (Jablonka and Lamb 1995, 2005). Others judge epigenetic inheritance to be relatively insignificant in evolution, even in principle, due to disanalogies with the genetic system (unstable states, high mutation rates, non-Mendelian, Lamarckian). In this talk, I use the case of epigenetic inheritance to shift philosophical discussion about relative significance arguments and reductionism in biology away from a grounding in the evolutionary contingency of biological "laws" (Beatty 1995) to heuristic strategies for investment in research. I argue that "biologists argue the way they do" (Beatty 1997) because of differing goals and commitments of distinct research specialties or lines of work with possibly overlapping domains.

Human Societies as Ecosystems: Culture and the Evolution of Social Differentiation
Rob Boyd, University of California-Los Angeles, Anthropology
Friday, 17 April 2009, 3:30 p.m.
817R Cathedral of Learning

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Abstract: Division of labor within other species is rare, mainly limited to sexes involved in parental care, and castes in social insects. Heritable division of labor in which different types carry different, genetically transmitted specializations is extremely rare. Exchange and division of labor occur in virtually all human societies, and culturally heritable specialization is common in the societies of the last 10,000 years. In a well mixed population, heritable division of labor requires that all types have the same expected fitness which severely restricts the nature of specialization that can arise through genetic evolution.  Cultural adaptation occurs much more rapidly than genetic adaptation, and here I show that this allows the cultural evolution of heritable specialization under plausible conditions.

The Annual Lecture Series is hosted by the Center for Philosophy of Science.

Generous financial support for this lecture series has been provided by
the Harvey & Leslie Wagner Endowment.      

Revised 9/28/10 - Copyright 2008