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Jonathan Birch [56]Jonathan C. P. Birch [2]
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Jonathan Birch
London School of Economics
  1. Science and Policy in Extremis: The UK’s Initial Response to COVID-19.Jonathan Birch - 2021 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 11 (3):90.
    Drawing on the SAGE minutes and other documents, I consider the wider lessons for norms of scientific advising that can be learned from the UK’s initial response to coronavirus in the period January-March 2020, when an initial strategy that planned to avoid total suppression of transmission was abruptly replaced by an aggressive suppression strategy. I introduce a distinction between “normatively light advice”, in which no specific policy option is recommended, and “normatively heavy advice” that does make an explicit recommendation. I (...)
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  2.  66
    The Philosophy of Social Evolution.Jonathan Birch - 2017 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    From mitochondria to meerkats, the natural world is full of spectacular examples of social behaviour. In the early 1960s W. D. Hamilton changed the way we think about how such behaviour evolves. He introduced three key innovations - now known as Hamilton's rule, kin selection, and inclusive fitness - and his pioneering work kick-started a research program now known as social evolution theory. This is a book about the philosophical foundations and future prospects of that program.
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  3. Animal Sentience and the Precautionary Principle.Jonathan Birch - 2017 - Animal Sentience 2:16(1).
    In debates about animal sentience, the precautionary principle is often invoked. The idea is that when the evidence of sentience is inconclusive, we should “give the animal the benefit of the doubt” or “err on the side of caution” in formulating animal protection legislation. Yet there remains confusion as to whether it is appropriate to apply the precautionary principle in this context, and, if so, what “applying the precautionary principle” means in practice regarding the burden of proof for animal sentience. (...)
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  4. The Search for Invertebrate Consciousness.Jonathan Birch - forthcoming - Noûs.
    There is no agreement on whether any invertebrates are conscious and no agreement on a methodology that could settle the issue. How can the debate move forward? I distinguish three broad types of approach: theory-heavy, theory-neutral and theory-light. Theory-heavy and theory-neutral approaches face serious problems, motivating a middle path: the theory-light approach. At the core of the theory-light approach is a minimal commitment about the relation between phenomenal consciousness and cognition that is compatible with many specific theories of consciousness: the (...)
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  5. Materialism and the Moral Status of Animals.Jonathan Birch - forthcoming - Philosophical Quarterly.
    Consciousness has an important role in ethics: when a being consciously experiences the frustration or satisfaction of its interests, those interests deserve higher moral priority than those of a behaviourally similar but non-conscious being. I consider the relationship between this ethical role and an a posteriori (or “type-B”) materialist solution to the mind-body problem. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, if type-B materialism is correct, then the reference of the concept of phenomenal consciousness is radically indeterminate between a (...)
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  6. Joint Know-How.Jonathan Birch - 2019 - Philosophical Studies 176 (12):3329–3352.
    When two agents engage in a joint action, such as rowing together, they exercise joint know-how. But what is the relationship between the joint know-how of the two agents and the know-how each agent possesses individually? I construct an “active mutual enablement” account of this relationship, according to which joint know-how arises when each agent knows how to predict, monitor, and make failure-averting adjustments in response to the behaviour of the other agent, while actively enabling the other to make such (...)
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  7.  40
    Unlimited Associative Learning and the Origins of Consciousness: A Primer and Some Predictions.Jonathan Birch, Simona Ginsburg & Eva Jablonka - 2020 - Biology and Philosophy 35 (6):1-23.
    Over the past two decades, Ginsburg and Jablonka have developed a novel approach to studying the evolutionary origins of consciousness: the Unlimited Associative Learning framework. The central idea is that there is a distinctive type of learning that can serve as a transition marker for the evolutionary transition from non-conscious to conscious life. The goal of this paper is to stimulate discussion of the framework by providing a primer on its key claims and a clear statement of its main empirical (...)
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  8. Hamilton’s Rule and its Discontents.Jonathan Birch - 2014 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 65 (2):381-411.
    In an incendiary 2010 Nature article, M. A. Nowak, C. E. Tarnita, and E. O. Wilson present a savage critique of the best-known and most widely used framework for the study of social evolution, W. D. Hamilton’s theory of kin selection. More than a hundred biologists have since rallied to the theory’s defence, but Nowak et al. maintain that their arguments ‘stand unrefuted’. Here I consider the most contentious claim Nowak et al. defend: that Hamilton’s rule, the core explanatory principle (...)
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  9. Propositional Content in Signalling Systems.Jonathan Birch - 2014 - Philosophical Studies 171 (3):493-512.
    Skyrms, building on the work of Dretske, has recently developed a novel information-theoretic account of propositional content in simple signalling systems. Information-theoretic accounts of content traditionally struggle to accommodate the possibility of misrepresentation, and I show that Skyrms’s account is no exception. I proceed to argue, however, that a modified version of Skyrms’s account can overcome this problem. On my proposed account, the propositional content of a signal is determined not by the information that it actually carries, but by the (...)
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  10. Natural Selection and the Maximization of Fitness.Jonathan Birch - 2016 - Biological Reviews 91 (3):712-727.
    The notion that natural selection is a process of fitness maximization gets a bad press in population genetics, yet in other areas of biology the view that organisms behave as if attempting to maximize their fitness remains widespread. Here I critically appraise the prospects for reconciliation. I first distinguish four varieties of fitness maximization. I then examine two recent developments that may appear to vindicate at least one of these varieties. The first is the ‘new’ interpretation of Fisher's fundamental theorem (...)
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  11. Global Workspace Theory and Animal Consciousness.Jonathan Birch - 2020 - Philosophical Topics 48 (1):21-37.
    Peter Carruthers has recently argued for a surprising conditional: if a global workspace theory of phenomenal consciousness is both correct and fully reductive, then there are no substantive facts to discover about phenomenal consciousness in nonhuman animals. I present two problems for this conditional. First, it rests on an odd double-standard about the ordinary concept of phenomenal consciousness: its intuitive non-gradability is taken to be unchallengeable by future scientific developments, whereas its intuitive determinacy is predicted to fall by the wayside. (...)
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  12.  74
    Dimensions of Animal Consciousness.Jonathan Birch, Alexandra K. Schnell & Nicola S. Clayton - 2020 - Trends in Cognitive Sciences 24 (10):789-801.
    How does consciousness vary across the animal kingdom? Are some animals ‘more conscious’ than others? This article presents a multidimensional framework for understanding interspecies variation in states of consciousness. The framework distinguishes five key dimensions of variation: perceptual richness, evaluative richness, integration at a time, integration across time, and self-consciousness. For each dimension, existing experiments that bear on it are reviewed and future experiments are suggested. By assessing a given species against each dimension, we can construct a consciousness profile for (...)
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  13. Kin Selection and Its Critics.Jonathan Birch & Samir Okasha - 2015 - BioScience 65 (1):22-32.
    Hamilton’s theory of kin selection is the best-known framework for understanding the evolution of social behavior but has long been a source of controversy in evolutionary biology. A recent critique of the theory by Nowak, Tarnita, and Wilson sparked a new round of debate, which shows no signs of abating. In this overview, we highlight a number of conceptual issues that lie at the heart of the current debate. We begin by emphasizing that there are various alternative formulations of Hamilton’s (...)
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  14.  34
    In Search of the Origins of Consciousness (Review of Simona Ginsburg and Eva Jablonka: The Evolution of the Sensitive Soul). [REVIEW]Jonathan Birch - 2020 - Acta Biotheoretica 68 (2):287-294.
    The Evolution of the Sensitive Soul is a landmark attempt to make progress on the problem of animal consciousness. Ginsburg and Jablonka propose a general cognitive marker of the presence of consciousness: Unlimited Associative Learning. They use this marker to defend a generous view about the distribution of consciousness in the natural world, on which a capacity for conscious experience is common to all vertebrates, many arthropods and some cephalopod molluscs. They use this inferred distribution to defend a view about (...)
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  15. The Cultural Evolution of Cultural Evolution.Jonathan Birch & Cecilia Heyes - 2021 - Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 376:20200051.
    What makes fast, cumulative cultural evolution work? Where did it come from? Why is it the sole preserve of humans? We set out a self-assembly hypothesis: cultural evolution evolved culturally. We present an evolutionary account that shows this hypothesis to be coherent, plausible, and worthy of further investigation. It has the following steps: (0) in common with other animals, early hominins had significant capacity for social learning; (1) knowledge and skills learned by offspring from their parents began to spread because (...)
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  16. Kin Selection, Group Selection, and the Varieties of Population Structure.Jonathan Birch - 2020 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 71 (1):259-286.
    Various results show the ‘formal equivalence’ of kin and group selectionist methodologies, but this does not preclude there being a real and useful distinction between kin and group selection processes. I distinguish individual- and population-centred approaches to drawing such a distinction, and I proceed to develop the latter. On the account I advance, the differences between kin and group selection are differences of degree in the structural properties of populations. A spatial metaphor provides a useful framework for thinking about these (...)
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  17. Animal Cognition and Human Values.Jonathan Birch - 2018 - Philosophy of Science 85 (5):1026-1037.
    Animal welfare scientists face an acute version of the problem of inductive risk, since they must choose whether to affirm attributions of mental states to animals in advisory contexts, knowing their decisions hold consequences for animal welfare. In such contexts, the burden of proof should be sensitive to the consequences of error, but a framework for setting appropriate burdens of proof is lacking. Through reflection on two cases—pain and cognitive enrichment—I arrive at a tentative framework based on the principle of (...)
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  18. Has Grafen Formalized Darwin?Jonathan Birch - 2014 - Biology and Philosophy 29 (2):175-180.
    One key aim of Grafen’s Formal Darwinism project is to formalize ‘modern biology’s understanding and updating of Darwin’s central argument’. In this commentary, I consider whether Grafen has succeeded in this aim.
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  19. Altruistic Deception.Jonathan Birch - 2019 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 74:27-33.
    Altruistic deception (or the telling of “white lies”) is common in humans. Does it also exist in non-human animals? On some definitions of deception, altruistic deception is impossible by definition, whereas others make it too easy by counting useful-but-ambiguous information as deceptive. I argue for a definition that makes altruistic deception possible in principle without trivializing it. On my proposal, deception requires the strategic exploitation of a receiver by a sender, where “exploitation” implies that the sender elicits a behaviour in (...)
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  20.  72
    Neural Organoids and the Precautionary Principle.Jonathan Birch & Heather Browning - 2021 - American Journal of Bioethics 21 (1):56-58.
    Human neural organoid research is advancing rapidly. As Greely notes in the target article, this progress presents an “onrushing ethical dilemma.” We can’t rule out the possibility that suff...
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  21. Applying the Precautionary Principle to Pandemics.Jonathan Birch - manuscript
    When faced with an urgent and credible threat of grave harm, we should take proportionate precautions. This maxim captures the core commitments of the “precautionary principle”. But what is it for a precaution to be “proportionate”? I construct an account of proportionality (the “ARCANE” account) that consists of five fundamental conditions (absolute rights compatibility, reasonable compensation, consistency, adequacy and non- excessiveness) and a tie-breaker (efficiency). I apply this account to two examples from the COVID-19 pandemic (border closures and school closures), (...)
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  22. Gene Mobility and the Concept of Relatedness.Jonathan Birch - 2014 - Biology and Philosophy 29 (4):445-476.
    Cooperation is rife in the microbial world, yet our best current theories of the evolution of cooperation were developed with multicellular animals in mind. Hamilton’s theory of inclusive fitness is an important case in point: applying the theory in a microbial setting is far from straightforward, as social evolution in microbes has a number of distinctive features that the theory was never intended to capture. In this article, I focus on the conceptual challenges posed by the project of extending Hamilton’s (...)
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  23. Hamilton’s Two Conceptions of Social Fitness.Jonathan Birch - 2016 - Philosophy of Science 83 (5):848-860.
    Hamilton introduced two conceptions of social fitness, which he called neighbour-modulated fitness and inclusive fitness. Although he regarded them as formally equivalent, a re-analysis of his own argument for their equivalence brings out two important assumptions on which it rests: weak additivity and actor's control. When weak additivity breaks down, neither fitness concept is appropriate in its original form. When actor's control breaks down, neighbour-modulated fitness may be appropriate, but inclusive fitness is not. Yet I argue that, despite its more (...)
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  24. The Inclusive Fitness Controversy: Finding a Way Forward.Jonathan Birch - 2017 - Royal Society Open Science 4 (170335):170335.
    This paper attempts to reconcile critics and defenders of inclusive fitness by constructing a synthesis that does justice to the insights of both. I argue that criticisms of the regression-based version of Hamilton’s rule, although they undermine its use for predictive purposes, do not undermine its use as an organizing framework for social evolution research. I argue that the assumptions underlying the concept of inclusive fitness, conceived as a causal property of an individual organism, are unlikely to be exactly true (...)
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  25. The Negative View of Natural Selection.Jonathan Birch - 2012 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (2):569-573.
    An influential argument due to Elliott Sober, subsequently strengthened by Denis Walsh and Joel Pust, moves from plausible premises to the bold conclusion that natural selection cannot explain the traits of individual organisms. If the argument were sound, the explanatory scope of selection would depend, surprisingly, on metaphysical considerations concerning origin essentialism. I show that the Sober-Walsh-Pust argument rests on a flawed counterfactual criterion for explanatory relevance. I further show that a more defensible criterion for explanatory relevance recently proposed by (...)
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  26. Robust Processes and Teleological Language.Jonathan Birch - 2012 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 2 (3):299-312.
    I consider some hitherto unexplored examples of teleological language in the sciences. In explicating these examples, I aim to show (a) that such language is not the sole preserve of the biological sciences, and (b) that not all such talk is reducible to the ascription of functions. In chemistry and biochemistry, scientists explaining molecular rearrangements and protein folding talk informally of molecules rearranging “in order to” maximize stability. Evolutionary biologists, meanwhile, often speak of traits evolving “in order to” optimize some (...)
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  27. On the 'Simulation Argument' and Selective Scepticism.Jonathan Birch - 2013 - Erkenntnis 78 (1):95-107.
    Nick Bostrom’s ‘Simulation Argument’ purports to show that, unless we are confident that advanced ‘posthuman’ civilizations are either extremely rare or extremely rarely interested in running simulations of their own ancestors, we should assign significant credence to the hypothesis that we are simulated. I argue that Bostrom does not succeed in grounding this constraint on credence. I first show that the Simulation Argument requires a curious form of selective scepticism, for it presupposes that we possess good evidence for claims about (...)
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  28. Toolmaking and the Evolution of Normative Cognition.Jonathan Birch - 2021 - Biology and Philosophy 36 (1):1-26.
    We are all guided by thousands of norms, but how did our capacity for normative cognition evolve? I propose there is a deep but neglected link between normative cognition and practical skill. In modern humans, complex motor skills and craft skills, such as toolmaking, are guided by internally represented norms of correct performance. Moreover, it is plausible that core components of human normative cognition evolved as a solution to the distinctive problems of transmitting complex motor skills and craft skills, especially (...)
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  29. Collective Action in the Fraternal Transitions.Jonathan Birch - 2012 - Biology and Philosophy 27 (3):363-380.
    Inclusive fitness theory was not originally designed to explain the major transitions in evolution, but there is a growing consensus that it has the resources to do so. My aim in this paper is to highlight, in a constructive spirit, the puzzles and challenges that remain. I first consider the distinctive aspects of the cooperative interactions we see within the most complex social groups in nature: multicellular organisms and eusocial insect colonies. I then focus on one aspect in particular: the (...)
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  30. Kin Selection: A Philosophical Analysis.Jonathan Birch - 2013 - Dissertation, University of Cambridge
    This PhD dissertation examines the conceptual and theoretical foundations of the most general and most widely used framework for understanding social evolution, W. D. Hamilton's theory of kin selection. While the core idea is intuitive enough (when organisms share genes, they sometimes have an evolutionary incentive to help one another), its apparent simplicity masks a host of conceptual subtleties, and the theory has proved a perennial source of controversy in evolutionary biology. To move towards a resolution of these controversies, we (...)
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  31.  53
    Separating Conscious and Unconscious Perception in Animals.Andrew Crump & Jonathan Birch - 2021 - Learning and Behavior 49 (4).
    In a new study, Ben-Haim et al. use subliminal stimuli to separate conscious and unconscious perception in macaques. A programme of this type, using a range of cognitive tasks, is a promising way to look for conscious perception in more controversial cases.
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  32. Irretrievably Confused? Innateness in Explanatory Context.Jonathan Birch - 2009 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 40 (4):296-301.
    The hunt for a biologically respectable definition for the folk concept of innateness is still on. I defend Ariew’s Canalization account of innateness against the criticisms of Griffiths and Machery, but highlight the remaining flaws in this proposal. I develop a new analysis based on the notion of environmental induction. A trait is innate, I argue, iff it is not environmentally induced. I augment this definition with a novel analysis of environmental induction that draws on the contrastive nature of causal (...)
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  33.  44
    Inclusive Fitness as a Criterion for Improvement.Jonathan Birch - 2019 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 76:101186.
    I distinguish two roles for a fitness concept in the context of explaining cumulative adaptive evolution: fitness as a predictor of gene frequency change, and fitness as a criterion for phenotypic improvement. Critics of inclusive fitness argue, correctly, that it is not an ideal fitness concept for the purpose of predicting gene-frequency change, since it relies on assumptions about the causal structure of social interaction that are unlikely to be exactly true in real populations, and that hold as approximations only (...)
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  34. Queller’s Separation Condition Explained and Defended.Jonathan Birch & James A. R. Marshall - 2014 - American Naturalist 184 (4):531-540.
    The theories of inclusive fitness and multilevel selection provide alternative perspectives on social evolution. The question of whether these perspectives are of equal generality remains a divisive issue. In an analysis based on the Price equation, Queller argued (by means of a principle he called the separation condition) that the two approaches are subject to the same limitations, arising from their fundamentally quantitative-genetical character. Recently, van Veelen et al. have challenged Queller’s results, using this as the basis for a broader (...)
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  35.  73
    Dividing the Pleistocene Pie (Review of Nicolas Baumard: The Origins of Fairness). [REVIEW]Jonathan Birch & Joeri Witteveen - 2017 - BioScience 67 (2):180-182.
    The sense of fairness is a central aspect of human moral psychology. Intuitions about fairness lead to many widespread moral beliefs, such as the belief that the punishment should fit the crime or the belief that one deserves a fair share of what one has earned. In The Origins of Fairness, Nicolas Baumard sets out to shed light on the evolutionary origin of these intuitions. He argues that the human sense of fairness is innate and universal, and he offers an (...)
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  36.  15
    Irretrievably Confused? Innateness in Explanatory Context.Jonathan Birch - 2009 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 40 (4):296-301.
    The hunt for a biologically respectable definition for the folk concept of innateness is still on. I defend Ariew’s Canalization account of innateness against the criticisms of Griffiths and Machery, but highlight the remaining flaws in this proposal. I develop a new analysis based on the notion of environmental induction. A trait is innate, I argue, iff it is not environmentally induced. I augment this definition with a novel analysis of environmental induction that draws on the contrastive nature of causal (...)
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  37.  11
    The Hatching of Consciousness.Jonathan Birch - 2021 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 43 (4):1-12.
    Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Metazoa and Joseph LeDoux’s The Deep History of Ourselves present radically different big pictures regarding the nature, evolution and distribution of consciousness in animals. In this essay review, I discuss the motivations behind these big pictures and try to steer a course between them.
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  38. How Cooperation Became the Norm. [REVIEW]Jonathan Birch - 2014 - Biology and Philosophy 29 (3):433-444.
    Most of the contributions to Cooperation and Its Evolution grapple with the distinctive challenges presented by the project of explaining human sociality. Many of these puzzles have a ‘chicken and egg’ character: our virtually unparalleled capacity for large-scale cooperation is the product of psychological, behavioural, and demographic changes in our recent evolutionary history, and these changes are linked by complex patterns of reciprocal dependence. There is much we do not yet understand about the timing of these changes, and about the (...)
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  39. Samir Okasha and Ken Binmore (Eds), Evolution and Rationality: Decisions, Cooperation, and Strategic Behaviour. [REVIEW]Jonathan Birch - 2013 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 64 (3):669-673.
    Evolution and Rationality marks the end of a three-year project, ‘Evolution, Cooperation, and Rationality’, directed at the University of Bristol by the book’s editors, Samir Okasha and Ken Binmore. The collection draws together the editors’ pick of the papers delivered at the conferences the project hosted, and covers a wide range of topics at the intersection of evolutionary theory and the social sciences. It is a splendid anthology: timely, interdisciplinary, thematically cohesive, and full of substantive and interesting disagreements between the (...)
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  40. Free Will and the Cross-Level Consequence Argument.Jonathan Birch - 2020
    Christian List has recently constructed a novel formal framework for representing the relationship between free will and determinism. At its core is a distinction between physical and agential levels of description. List has argued that, since the consequence argument cannot be reconstructed within this framework, the consequence argument rests on a ‘category mistake’: an illicit conflation of the physical and agential levels. I show that an expanded version of List’s framework allows the construction of a cross-level consequence argument.
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  41.  8
    Refining the Skill Hypothesis: Replies to Andrews/Westra, Tomasello, Sterelny, and Railton.Jonathan Birch - 2021 - Analyse & Kritik 43 (1):253-260.
    I reflect on the commentaries on my ‘skill hypothesis’ from Andrews/westra, Tomasello, Sterelny, and Railton. I discuss the difference between normative cognition and the broader category of action-guiding representation, and I reflect on the relationship between joint intentionality and normative cognition. I then consider Sterelny and Railton’s variants on the skill hypothesis, which highlight some important areas where future evidence could help us refine the account: the relative importance of on-the-fly skill execution vs. longer-term strategizing, the relative importance of toolmaking (...)
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  42.  67
    The Place of Animals in Kantian Ethics. Review of Christine M. Korsgaard, Fellow Creatures: Our Obligations to the Other Animals. [REVIEW]Jonathan Birch - 2020 - Biology and Philosophy 35:8.
    Kantian ethics has struggled terribly with the challenge of incorporating non-human animals as beings to which we can owe obligations. Christine Korsgaard’s Fellow Creatures is a bold, substantial attempt to meet that challenge. In this essay review, I set the scene for the book’s core argument, offer a reconstruction of that argument, and reflect on its strengths and limitations, arguing that it is ultimately unconvincing.
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  43. Fitness Maximization.Jonathan Birch - 2018 - In Richard Joyce (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Evolution and Philosophy. London: Routledge. pp. 49-63.
    Is there any way to reconcile the adaptationist’s image of natural selection as an engine of optimality with the more complex image of its dynamics we get from population genetics? This has long been an important strand in the controversy surrounding adaptationism, yet debate has been hampered by a tendency to conflate various different ways of thinking about maximization. Here I distinguish four varieties of maximization principle. I then discuss the logical relations between these varieties, arguing that, although they may (...)
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  44.  3
    The learning-consciousness connection.Jonathan Birch, Simona Ginsburg & Eva Jablonka - 2021 - Biology and Philosophy 36 (5):1-14.
    This is a response to the nine commentaries on our target article “Unlimited Associative Learning: A primer and some predictions”. Our responses are organized by theme rather than by author. We present a minimal functional architecture for Unlimited Associative Learning that aims to tie to together the list of capacities presented in the target article. We explain why we discount higher-order thought theories of consciousness. We respond to the criticism that we have overplayed the importance of learning and underplayed the (...)
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  45.  78
    Agents and Goals in Evolution, by Samir Okasha. [REVIEW]Jonathan Birch - 2019 - Mind 128 (512):1408-1416.
    In this essay review of Samir Okasha's Agents and Goals in Evolution, I reflect on the rationale for agential thinking in biology, and consider whether the rationale is the same for genes as for organisms. I also discuss Okasha's ingenious examples of the evolution of irrational behaviour, and in particular the evolution of violations of the "independence axiom" of rational choice theory. These examples rely on a crucial distinction between aggregate and idiosyncratic risk.
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  46.  6
    The Skilful Origins of Human Normative Cognition.Jonathan Birch - 2021 - Analyse & Kritik 43 (1):191-202.
    I briefly present and motivate a ‘skill hypothesis’ regarding the evolution of human normative cognition. On this hypothesis, the capacity to internally represent action-guiding norms evolved as a solution to the distinctive problems of standardizing, learning and teaching complex motor skills and craft skills, especially skills related to toolmaking. We have an evolved cognitive architecture for internalizing norms of technique, which was then co-opted for a rich array of social functions. There was a gradual expansion of the normative domain, with (...)
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  47.  30
    The Meaning of Biological Signals.Marc Artiga, Jonathan Birch & Manolo Martínez - 2020 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 84:101348.
    We introduce the virtual special issue on content in signalling systems. The issue explores the uses and limits of ideas from evolutionary game theory and information theory for explaining the content of biological signals. We explain the basic idea of the Lewis-Skyrms sender-receiver framework, and we highlight three key themes of the issue: (i) the challenge of accounting for deception, misinformation and false content, (ii) the relevance of partial or total common interest to the evolution of meaningful signals, and (iii) (...)
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  48. Michael Tomasello: A Natural History of Human Morality. [REVIEW]Jonathan Birch - 2017 - BJPS Review of Books 2017.
    Working together creates mutual obligations. For example, the members of a football team owe it to each other to work hard for the good of the team. A player who doesn’t try hard enough, or who makes a costly mistake, lets the side down. When the team loses, feelings of responsibility, guilt, and shame ensue. Players ought to feel committed to the team and responsible for its failures. If they don’t, they deserve to be dropped. The idea at the heart (...)
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    Are Kin and Group Selection Rivals or Friends?Jonathan Birch - 2019 - Current Biology 29 (11):R433-R438.
    Kin selection and group selection were once seen as competing explanatory hypotheses but now tend to be seen as equivalent ways of describing the same basic idea. Yet this ‘equivalence thesis’ seems not to have brought proponents of kin selection and group selection any closer together. This may be because the equivalence thesis merely shows the equivalence of two statistical formalisms without saying anything about causality. W.D. Hamilton was the first to derive an equivalence result of this type. Yet Hamilton (...)
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  50. Social Revolution. [REVIEW]Jonathan Birch - 2012 - Biology and Philosophy 27 (4):571-581.
    Andrew Bourke’s Principles of Social Evolution identifies three stages that characterize an evolutionary transition in individuality and deploys inclusive fitness theory to explain each stage. The third stage, social group transformation, has hitherto received relatively little attention from inclusive fitness theorists. In this review, I first discuss Bourke’s “virtual dominance” hypothesis for the evolution of the germ line. I then contrast Bourke’s inclusive fitness approach to the major transitions with the multi-level approach developed by Richard Michod, Samir Okasha and others. (...)
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