Syllabus and schedule.
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Postby ShawnMiller » Wed Jul 22, 2015 4:04 pm

Contact Information

Instructor: Shawn A. Miller,
Office Hours: Noon - 2 p.m. on Tuesdays and by Appointment
Office: 234 Social Sciences and Humanities (aka, The Death Star)
Class Meetings: MTW 2:10-4:25 p.m., Wellman 233
Readings: There is no textbook for this class. All readings and videos will be posted online and linked to on the Schedule.
Course website:

Course Description

This class will consider conceptual and methodological issues in biology. The topics covered will be determined in part by the preferences of the class as expressed via online polls, forum posts, and class discussions. We will start by looking at the Human Genome Project, which raises such questions as: What is a gene? What does it mean to say that there is one human genome (rather than many)? Are biological organisms just the sum of their genes or does that leave something out? Is genetic explanation all biology needs? Has the Human Genome Project fulfilled its promises? If not, what does this tell us about the science of biology?

The goals of this course are to introduce you to some of the major issues within the philosophy of biology and to provide the opportunity to discuss, both in class and in a more sustained written form, your ideas and arguments concerning important issues in the philosophy of biology.


Pre-class forum posts: 15%

You must post questions or comments about the reading for the day to the appropriate forum by 2 p.m. on the day of class. It should be at least two or three sentences, but need not be much longer. You can comment on someone else's post, if you like.

Post-class forum posts: 10%

You will have to post to forums after selected classes as well. You will be told which ones.

In-class participation: 10%

You must come to class and participate, i.e., ask questions, contribute to discussions, etc.

Pop-quizzes/assignments: 10%

There will be periodic pop quizzes on the reading for the day or about previous material from the readings or lecture. They will consist of 1 or 2 multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank questions. These quizzes are just to make sure you are keeping up with the reading and attending lecture; they will be easy, if you have done the reading and attended class.

Writing project: 25% or 30% depending on your preference

This will be due on Sept. 10 by 11:59 p.m. Submit the writing project via email to as a PDF file. You will have considerable latitude in the form and content of the project, e.g., you may decide to write a Wikipedia-style philosophy of biology article or write a philosophy of biology "paper" as a series of 140-character tweets. You can choose whether this counts for 25% or 30% of your grade. If you choose 25%, then the Take-home final will be worth 30%. By default the Writing Project counts for 25%.

Take-home final: 25% or 30% depending on your preference

This will consist of four essay questions and will be due on the forums Sept. 12 by 7 a.m. The essay questions will be made available via email and on the forums on Sept. 7. You can choose whether this counts for 25% or 30% of your grade. If you choose 25%, then the Writing Project will be worth 30%. By default, the take-home final counts for 30%.

Class Policies


If you have a documented disability and wish to discuss academic accommodations, please contact me as soon as possible.

Material Covered in Class

You are responsible for all material covered in class, including announcements, discussions, etc., whether you are in class or not.

Leaving Class Early

Since class periods are long, we will typically take a short break about midway through. Please do not take this as an opportunity to leave class early. It hurts morale, and you may lose participation points as well.

Computer Use

Do not use laptops, tablets, or cell/smart phones in class for activities unrelated to the class. A recent study shows that it hinders learning both for the user and those nearby.

Eating in Class

Eating in class is OK if it is done quietly and unobtrusively, e.g., if food is wrapped in crinkly packaging, please unwrap it all at once rather than bit by noisy bit throughout class. Also, please avoid bringing foods with especially strong smells, as they may not be to everyone's liking.

Talking in Class, i.e., Side Conversations

If you have questions or comments at any point during class, please raise your hand and I will happily address whatever it is that is on your mind. However, please do not hold discussions and whisper to one another during class. If you do so, I will ask you to leave, which is embarrassing for everyone. :(


It is a violation of the Code of Academic Conduct to turn in work that is not your own. This includes: turning in the work of another student with your name on it, buying/copying a paper off the Internet, using the words or ideas of others without proper quotation and citation. In accordance with Regulation 550 of the Davis Division of the Academic Senate, a grade of "0" will be assigned to examinations or assignments on which cheating, plagiarism or any other form of academic dishonesty is admitted or determined to have occurred by proper adjudication. If you have trouble with the class material or have personal issues that prevent you from doing your work, come talk to me. For more information on plagarism, see Avoiding Plagarism: Mastering the Art of Scholarship from Student Judicial Affairs.

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