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Midwest Philosophy Colloquium

Every year the UMM Philosophy Discipline hosts the Midwest Philosophy Colloquium, where distinguished speakers come to campus and give talks on topics of general interest. Previous colloquium speakers have included Donald Davidson, Saul Kripke, Fred Dretske, J.L. Mackie, Gilbert Harman, David Gauthier, Keith Donnellan, Kurt Baier, Alvin Goldman, David Kaplan, Paul Benacerraf, Keith Lehrer, Jonathan Bennett, John Searle, Robert Solomon, Phillipa Foot, Eleanor Stump, Fred Feldman, Nancy Cartwright, Gary Watson, Michael Bratman, Stephen Stich, and many others.

40th Annual Midwest Philosophy Colloquium

Philosophy of Biology


Alan Love (University of Minnesota, Twin Cities)
“Explaining the Origin of Evolutionary Novelty”
Thursday, February 18, 2016, 5 p.m.
Location: Imholte Hall 109
Abstract »

The origination of novel structures has long been an intriguing topic for biologists. Over the past few decades it has served as a central theme in evolutionary developmental biology, in part to highlight explanatory gaps in the population genetic framework of standard evolutionary theory. Yet, definitions of evolutionary innovation and novelty are frequently debated and there remains disagreement about what kinds of causal factors best explain the origin of qualitatively new variation in the history of life. I argue that instead of trying to identify a single, correct definition of evolutionary novelty, biologists should shift their attention from defining the concept to characterizing the explanatory agenda associated with the concept. The meanings of the terms “innovation” or “novelty” serve to indicate explanatory expectations for the study of diverse morphological or behavioral features. These differences in explanatory expectations or criteria of adequacy help to account for disagreements about how best to explain the origin of novelty. Thus, advancing inquiry into the developmental evolution of novel structures requires attention to three distinct dimensions—conceptual, empirical, and theoretical—and suggests that combinations of philosophical and scientific expertise harbor the most promise for increasing our understanding of the evolutionary origins of novelty.

Bruce Glymour (Kansas State University)
“When is Science Bad? Perspectival Judgments and Value Relativism in and about Scientific Practice”
Wednesday, March 23, 2016, 7 p.m.
Location: Imholte Hall 109
Abstract »

Discussions of scientific and research ethics tend to focus on the subjugation of scientific practice to norms external to the practice itself. For example, science is held to be morally problematic when it mistreats research subjects on the grounds that while the advance of knowledge is a worthwhile aim, it is far less important than the moral obligation to respect persons. Similarly, much has been made of extent to which pragmatic considerations should govern epistemic practice in science, as for example the idea that the proper tradeoff between the power and significance of one’s statistical tests should be governed by the relative moral costs of type 1 and type 2 errors. Rather less has been said about the way value commitments internal to science govern scientific practice. And even when made explicit, those value commitments are often treated as merely epistemic values and hence somehow categorically less important than properly moral values. I aim here to elaborate on distinctions between and among norms internal to and norms external to science, and to explore the moral implications of the view that scientific norms are sometimes properly prioritized over (some) external moral norms.

Patrick Forber (Tufts University) & Rory Smead (Northeastern University)
“Evolution, Spite, and Morality”
Thursday, April 14, 2016, 5 p.m.
Location: Imholte Hall 109
Abstract »

Exploring formal evolutionary models can help inform our predictions about the prevalence and stability of social behaviors in biological populations. Such investigations predominantly focus on cooperation, with the aim of showing how cooperative behaviors might emerge and remain stable against the threat of free riding or defection. The results of these investigations inform accounts of human evolution, for in some ways our cooperative tendencies surpass even those of eusocial insects. Here we revisit the formal investigations and consider the effects of harmful social behaviors. It turns out that spite—costly behavior that inflicts harm on others—can evolve in a range of different conditions, which we have reason to suspect were realized in human ancestral populations. Furthermore, the presence of spite can have a dramatic effect on the evolution of cooperation. This requires us to at least reevaluate our accounts of human evolution, especially concerning the emergence of human morality. We argue that spite may have played a pivotal role in the emergence of beneficial prosocial behaviors.

Philip Kitcher (Columbia University)
“Experimenting on Animals”
Wednesday, April 27, 2016, 7 p.m.
Location: Imholte Hall 109
Abstract coming soon


Past Colloquia