Top 2014 Philosophy of Science Books

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Philosophy of science books, with an obvious focus on biology. The top 5 reflect my own biases, and there are many other good picks in the Runners Up, so be sure to check those out too!

The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision

by Professor Fritjof Capra [Cambridge University Press, Hardcover]
Price: $36.95 £23.25 EUR 33,18 EUR 30,48 EUR 37,52 EUR 31,71 CDN$ 41.95

I consider this book to be critical basic reading for any science student, and especially a biology one. For me, the more important shift in modern biological thinking is precisely the one described in this book: instead of viewing the world as composed of singular blocks performing their own thing, we now view the world as composed of many elements interacting together to form a coherent whole that somehow functions fine. In biology, this is exemplified by the view of genes being blueprints for bodies being replaced by a more holistic view of genes being important actors in a much more complex developmental biology that involves environmental and physical factors.

This book expounds this systems view of everything, going through the history to trace the development of this ideology. On the way, you learn about many important philosophical concepts, e.g. emergence and complexity, as well as see systems thinking applied to various classical biological questions. Must have.

Philosophy has a pretty terrible reputation as being useless. In some cases, such a reputation is warranted. But specific disciplinary philosophies still make valid contributions. Philosophers of biology continue to help us understand where evolutionary biology should move on to next, for example. In this book, we see why, as scientists, we owe it to ourselves to school ourselves in the philosophy of science, by using examples of bad special interest-funded flawed research to show how proper scientific thinking should allow us to spot and weed out these harmful “discoveries”. I recommend this being given as further reading in the first semester of any scientific degree (even if the examples here stem from the biological sciences, it’s the principle that counts!).

Because I’m told that anybody reading philosophy should be versed in at least three European languages, extant or extinct, I include a French book here. Not your traditional philosophy book, this one uses insects and insect biology to examine our entrenched tendencies to anthropomorphise everything and view ourselves as the center of the world. It’s a great book to give to those who cling to the idea that humans or mammals are more special than disgusting lowly invertebrates. Also contains good food for thought on bioethics.

A great introduction to the philosophy of biology, and a good companion to the first book on this list. It basically tears apart reductionistic thinking in biology in just about every chapter. Genetic reductionism takes a battering, and I’m very happy that there is also a chapter dedicated to exposing silly evolutionary psychology. Two thumbs up, and eight other digits raised as a side-effect because they are all linked on the hand. Morphological pleiotropy is so annoying.

A textbook on general philosophy of science, covering all the necessary bases from logic and epistemology to constructivism and logical positivism. Comprehensive, up to date, and more readable than typical philosophy texts, I recommend this for all students and lecturers needing to plan a course.

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Philosophy of Microbiology

by Dr Maureen O'Malley [Cambridge University Press, Paperback]
Price: $23.44 £16.10 EUR 24,23 EUR 22,36 EUR 25,87 EUR 21,56 CDN$ 18.89


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