Event Detail

What is Life? Biology, Society, and Values


Oct 08, 2012 | 17:15

Organized by: University of Vienna, Dept. of Theoretical Biology
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Topic Description

Course description:

This course is an introduction to conceptual and ethical issues in the life sciences, suitable for philosophy and for biology students, among others. The course is divided in four parts, each addressing a core conceptual issue in the life sciences and its ethical and social ramifications. We begin by investigating what is perhaps the most difficult question in biology, namely ‘What is life and how did it originate?’ We will discuss controversies surrounding the origin of life, attempts to define life and how these definitions impact on life and death decisions. The second part of the course will cover the historical roots of mechanistic thinking in the life sciences, mechanistic explanations in contemporary science, the possibility of free will in a mechanistic world, and ethical implications of bioengineering. In the third part of the course, we will discuss problems related to the genetic revolution, from debates surrounding the concept of the gene, to the ethics of genetic testing, gene therapy, and eugenics. A distinctive feature of living organisms is that they evolved. Consequently, the final part of the course covers the processes that shape evolution and the sometimes controversial application of the principles of evolution to understanding human behaviour. The course is a combination of lecture, discussion, debate, and group projects. Students are invited and encouraged to draw upon their own knowledge of biology and its history in class discussions.

Content: The course will be based on key articles in the philosophy of biology. The articles are accessible via Moodle.

Methods: Introduction to the themes by the instructor; individual readings; group discussions.

Goals: To become acquainted with the way contemporary philosophers of biology deal with conceptual and methodological issues in the life sciences.

Course assessment: Participation in group discussions; Powerpoint presentation on one of the topics at the end of the seminar; one page paper (requirements may change depending on the number of students)

Preliminary discussion: 08.10.2012, 17:15 in the seminar room of the Department of Theoretical Biology, UZA 1, Biozentrum Althanstraße 14, 1090 Wien, 2. Ebene, 4. Spange