Faculty of Arts

PHIL 263

Philosophy of Biology

Please note: this is archived course information from 2019 for PHIL 263.


What is natural selection, and does it act on individual organisms, genes, or groups of organisms? Can natural selection alone explain the amazing diversity and complexity we see in the living world? If every organism is trying to be the fittest, how did self-sacrificing behaviours, like sharing food, ever evolve? What is an organism, anyway—does an ant colony or a virus count? Is a virus even alive?

In this course, we will examine these and other questions about the conceptual and philosophical foundations of the life sciences. Some of these questions have been debated for centuries. Others have arisen only recently, with recent innovations in biological science and technology. Our approach will be strongly cross-disciplinary, applying philosophical rigour to debates in biology, and drawing on empirical work from biology to inform philosophical discussions. 

Biology students are encouraged to take this course, but no background in biology is required or assumed. The course will include some introduction to relevant biological issues including evolutionary theory.

View the course syllabus

Availability 2019

Not taught in 2019


Lecturer(s) Dr Emily Parke


We will read a variety of papers and book chapters, by both philosophers of biology and biologists. All readings will be made available electronically.


Coursework only


PHIL 263: 15.0 points


30 points in Philosophy or 60 points


PHIL 363

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