PHL323: Philosophy of Biology, Spring 2012
Classroom: Campus Center 210
Class time: MWF 11:30 am - 12:25 pm
Final exam: 10:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. on May 9 in Campus Center 210

Professor: Craig DeLancey
Office: Campus Center 212C
Office Hours: MWF 9:00 a.m. -- 10:00 a.m., F 3:00 p.m. -- 4:00 p.m., and by appointment


This class investigates philosophical questions that arise concerning findings and assumptions of modern biology. Topics may include: the nature of life; explaining teleological discourse; implications of different choices for the unit of selection; organism and species identity; whether evolution has a direction.


Either PHL111 and an upper division philosophy course, preferably including PHL321; or six hours in the biological sciences.


We'll use the following texts for this class:

Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker

Rosenberg, The Philosophy of Biology
But most of our readings will come from online sources for academic papers. There's a fair amount of reading in this class. Please do not take the class if you will not do the reading.

Assignments and exams

You will have two exams, and weekly short writing assignments. The writing assignments will include short summaries of readings, or new applications of what we have learned. There may also be a few homeworks of a more formal nature. One or both exams may be take-home writing assignments; we'll determine this as we near the exam times.


SUNY mandates attendance for your classes. They also ask me to take attendance, which I will do by periodically passing around sign-in sheets.

However, I do not grade you for attendance. Please note the following very important fact: I respect you and believe you should be allowed to manage your own time. But because I treat you with respect I demand that you act like you deserve that respect. That is: do not come to class to talk to the person next to you, to text message your friends back in the dorm, to surf youtube, to read the newspaper. I consider this profoundly disrespectful, it distracts me a great deal, and I fear it distracts the people around you. You can do these things somewhere else, and I won't penalize you for doing so. Class time is for philosophy.

Of course, I understand that people like to talk to each other during class about class, asking their neighbor "what did DeLancey just say?" and so on. That's good -- in the best of all worlds we would all be doing that often during class. But manners require some taste and I'm sure you can show good taste in not overdoing that kind of talk to the point where I can't tell whether you're discussing philosophy or discussing lunch plans.

Similarly, don't come to class simply to leave after you hand in your homework, or come twenty minutes late, and so on. That's very distracting also.


The raw grade will be determined in the following way:
Homework assignments: 60%
Class exams: 40% (20% each)
See my grading policy for a brief note on how I turn the raw grade into a final grade.

Homeworks will sometimes be reviewed in the class period where they are due. For this reason, late homeworks will not be accepted for credit.

You can always drop off a homework early by bringing it to my office. The secretary can put it in my mailbox; or, if no one is in, you can slide it under the door if it is clearly marked "FOR DELANCEY."

I regret that I delete all the following emails unanswered: "I missed class today, can you tell me everything you said?" "I don't have the book, can you type up the problems and email them to me?" "I know you don't accept the written homeworks by email, but can I email my homework to you until I come to class sometime and give you the hardcopy then?" "My roommate is in the hospital can you tell me whether I need to come to class today?" And so on. You get the gist.

If you miss an exam and have an excused absence for the day you miss the exam, you may make it up, by special appointment with me, when you are able to come back to class. It is your responsibility to arrange any make-up exams as soon as you know you are going to miss the exam. Otherwise you may lose the opportunity to take the test, since I cannot give make-up exams after the class has gone over the answers.

Here is how you secure an excused absence: Only prior notification with credibly documented or easily verifiable reasons (e.g., medical visits to Mary Walker, documented participation in official sporting events, etc.) will result in excused absences. You must notify in writing, call, or email me prior to your absence from class. You must notify the Philosophy Dept. secretary, Pat Meleski, before you are going to be absent, via email at, or by phone at x2249. However, you must make sure she knows your name, the number of the course, the date, and your easily verifiable reason, along with a request to forward the information to me. It is better to give your information to me, except when you are unable to communicate with my phone or email for some reason.

Please hold onto all of your assignments and exams. Sometime before the end of the semester I recommend that you ask me to review the grades that I have recorded to make sure that I have not made any mistakes. I'm only human and can make typos in recording grades!

Any forms of cheating will earn a zero grade, and will be reported to the Dean.

College Policy on Intellectual Integrity

Intellectual integrity on the part of all students is basic to individual growth and development through college course work. When academic dishonesty occurs, the teaching/learning climate is seriously undermined and student growth and development are impeded. For these reasons, any form of intellectual dishonesty is a serious concern and is therefore prohibited.

The full intellectual integrity policy can be found at

Office Hours

In addition to the listed office hours, I encourage you to make appointments. I am available quite a bit. Please try to come to office hours with specific questions in mind. You can of course come with a general request for help, but it is always helpful if you spend a little time thinking about how I can best help you out.

Learning goals

In this class, it is your responsibility to learn, and to be able to describe, explain, and apply:


I will frequently update an online schedule of readings and yassignments. It is your responsibility to check the www pages for the class at least every other day!