Sex and Death: Introduction to the Philosophy of Biology (PHL3018)

StaffDr Shane Glackin - Lecturer
Credit Value15
Academic Year2018/9
ECTS Value7.5
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The philosophy of biology is one of the most exciting and rapidly developing areas of philosophy. It involves close analysis of numerous aspects of biology, both contemporary and historical, and examines conceptual and methodological innovation in a range of life sciences. Students successfully completing this module will have acquired a detailed knowledge of the central issues, problems, disputes and unresolved questions of the philosophy of biology

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. understand the conceptual issues raised by contemporary theories of evolution, heredity, development and ecology
  • 2. acquire knowledge of important examples of conceptual change and theoretical conflict in biology;
  • 3. appreciate the interaction between empirical data and conceptual frameworks in the development of several areas of the life sciences;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. apply a reflective and sophisticated analytic understanding to complex issues and subject matter;
  • 5. appreciate the role and importance of detailed empirical knowledge for philosophical understanding
  • 6. analyse and communicate ideas in a clear, rational, and carefully considered way;
  • 7. detect and diagnose fallacies, specious arguments, and errors in reasoning;

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 8. demonstrate in assessed work and tutorial discussions: Precision of thought and expression (oral and written) in the analysis and formulation of complex and controversial problems;
  • 9. think logically and analyse critically
  • 10. think and work creatively, self-critically, and independently;
  • 11. participate effectively in group discussion and argument.

Syllabus plan

What is evolution?
Evolutionary explanations of human nature
Selfish genes
Altruism and group selection
Adaptation and function

Genes, genetics and molecular biology
Evolution and development
Ecology: biodiversity, niche construction, conservation
Species and the tree of life
Philosophy of biology in practice
Summarizing philosophy of biology; revision; essay and exam discussion.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching activity 16.5The module will be taught and learned via weekly one-and-a-half-hour seminars, which will consist of a one-hour lecture followed by a half-hour tutorial. The tutorial will incorporate student presentations as well as further discussion of the lecture material
Guided Independent study133.5A variety of activities directed by module convener.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Participation in seminars Weekly1-11Verbal feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay603,000 words1-10Written
Examination301 hour1-10Written
Presentation1010 minutes1-10Verbal

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (3,000 words)1-10August/September assessment period
ExaminationExamination (1 hour)1-10August/September assessment period
PresentationPresentation script and slides1-10August/September assessment period

Re-assessment notes

give details of how re-assessment will be calculated. This section can also be used to indicate where re-assessment is not available

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

*Sterelny, K., and Griffiths, P. 1999. Sex and Death: An Introduction to Philosophy of Biology. University of Chicago Press. [*This is the core text for all lectures.]
Hull, D.L., and Ruse, M. (Eds.). 2007. The Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of Biology. Cambridge University Press.
Hull, D.L., and Ruse, M. (Eds.). 1998. Philosophy of Biology. Oxford University Press.
Matthen, M., and Stephens, C. (Eds.). 2007. Philosophy of Biology. Elsevier.
Ruse, M. (Ed.). 2008. The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Biology. Oxford University Press.
Sarkar, S., and Plutynski, A. (Eds.). 2008. A Companion to the Philosophy of Biology. Blackwell.
Indicative web based resources e.g. Webct:

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

A WebCT site provides detailed module information, including online reading material.

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Evolution, Philosophy, Biology, Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Nature