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Gunnar Babcock
Duke University
  1. Teleology and function in non-living nature.Gunnar Babcock - 2023 - Synthese 201 (4):1-20.
    There’s a general assumption that teleology and function do not exist in inanimate nature. Throughout biology, it is generally taken as granted that teleology (or teleonomy) and functions are not only unique to life, but perhaps even a defining quality of life. For many, it’s obvious that rocks, water, and the like, are not teleological, nor could they possibly have stand-alone functions. This idea - that teleology and function are unique to life - is the target of this paper. I (...)
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  2. An externalist teleology.Gunnar Babcock & Daniel W. McShea - 2021 - Synthese 199 (3-4):8755-8780.
    Teleology has a complicated history in the biological sciences. Some have argued that Darwin’s theory has allowed biology to purge itself of teleological explanations. Others have been content to retain teleology and to treat it as metaphorical, or have sought to replace it with less problematic notions like teleonomy. And still others have tried to naturalize it in a way that distances it from the vitalism of the nineteenth century, focusing on the role that function plays in teleological explanation. No (...)
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  3. Resolving teleology's false dilemma.Gunnar Babcock & Dan McShea - 2023 - Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 139 (4):415-432.
    This paper argues that the account of teleology previously proposed by the authors is consistent with the physical determinism that is implicit across many of the sciences. We suggest that much of the current aversion to teleological thinking found in the sciences is rooted in debates that can be traced back to ancient natural science, which pitted mechanistic and deterministic theories against teleological ones. These debates saw a deterministic world as one where freedom and agency is impossible. And, because teleological (...)
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  4. Are Synthetic Genomes Parts of a Genetic Lineage?Gunnar Babcock - 2021 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 72 (4):995-1011.
    Biologists are nearing the creation of the first fully synthetic eukaryotic genome. Does this mean that we still soon be able to create genomes that are parts of an existing genetic lineage? If so, it might be possible to bring back extinct species. But do genomes that are synthetically assembled, no matter how similar they are to native genomes, really belong to the genetic lineage on which they were modelled? This article will argue that they are situated within the same (...)
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  5. Goal directedness and the field concept.Gunnar Babcock & McShea Dan - forthcoming - Philosophy of Science.
    A long-standing problem in understanding goal-directed systems has been the insufficiency of mechanistic explanations to make sense of them. This paper offers a solution to this problem. It begins by observing the limitations of mechanistic decompositions when it comes to understanding physical fields. We argue that introducing the field concept, as it has been developed in field theory, alongside mechanisms is able to provide an account of goal directedness in the sciences.
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  6. Asexual organisms, identity and vertical gene transfer.Gunnar Babcock - 2020 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 81:101265.
    This paper poses a problem for traditional phylogenetics: The identity of organisms that reproduce through fission can be understood in several different ways. This prompts questions about how to differentiate parent organisms from their offspring, making vertical gene transfer unclear. Differentiating between parents and offspring stems from what I call the identity problem. How the problem is resolved has implications for phylogenetic groupings. If the identity of a particular asexual organism persists through fission, the vertical lineage on a phylogenetic tree (...)
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    The split-body problem.Gunnar Babcock - 2022 - Aeon.
    If you split yourself down the middle to become two people, would you survive the process? And, if you did, would your other half be your child, your clone or your sibling? Would this create two instances of the same you, existing simultaneously in two places at the same time; or would it create two entirely new people, causing you to suddenly cease to exist? While such thought experiments raise baffling questions about personal identity, there is a more fundamental problem (...)
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