Department of Philosophy
Department of Philosophy

Sahotra Sarkar

ProfessorPhD, Chicago



Philosophy of biology, philosophy of science, environmental ethics, Kant


A specialist in the history and philosophy of science, he has particular interests in both philosophy of biology and physics. He is the author of Genetics and Reductionism: A Primer ; (Cambridge, 1998) and J.B.S. Haldane--A Scientific Biography (Oxford, forthcoming); editor of several books, including The Philosophy and History of Molecular Biology (1996), the six-volume Science and the Philosophy in the Twentieth Century: Basic Works of Logical Empiricism (1996) and the two-volume The Philosophy of Science: An Encyclopedia (forthcoming); and author of several dozen articles in both philosophical and scientific journals. His teaching and research also encompass mathematical logic, environmental ethics, aesthetics, and Marx. He serves on the editorial boards of BioScience and Evolutionary Theory. He came to Texas after teaching at Boston and McGill Universities and holding fellowships at MIT and the Max Planck Institute.


PHL 363L • Philosphy Of Biology

42035 • Spring 2015
Meets TTH 1230pm-200pm UTC 4.132

This is an introduction to the philosophy of biology with a heavy focus on molecular biology, genetics, and evolution, and what they say about the living world including humans in light of recent advances in biology, in particular, in genomics and related areas in the wake of the Human Genome Project and other sequencing efforts. The course starts with a conceptual analysis of classical and molecular genetics followed by the innovations introduced by genomics, proteomics, and systems biology. It goes on to explore how evolutionary biology interprets the phenomena of life and what molecular biology says about evolution. It turns to controversial questions at the forefront of biological research including the possibility that human behavior is genetically determined and evolutionarily selected. Traditional philosophical problems that are illuminated by modern biology include reductionism, teleology, functional and informational explanation.

PHL 386 • Sci Theories/Explanatn/Reductn

42145 • Spring 2015
Meets T 200pm-500pm CBA 4.326


Graduate standing and consent of Graduate Advisor or instructor required.


This seminar is an introduction to contemporary philosophy of science with a focus on the nature of theories, explanation, and reductionism. It encompasses three different areas: general philosophy of science, the philosophy of physics, and the philosophy of biology.

The course will begin with a critical look at the received view of the philosophy of science inherited from the logical empiricists with particular attention to Carnap, Hempel, and Nagel. In the context of explanation and reductionism it will go on to look at a variety of more recent figures including Batterman, Butterfield, Fodor, Kitcher, Putnam, Sarkar, Schaffner, Shimony and Wimsatt. Three questions will be addressed:

1.  What is explanation and how is it related to reductionism?

2.  When does explanation or reduction succeed? 

3.  When is reductionism valuable?



Batterman, R. W. 2001. The Devil in the Details: Asymptotic Reasoning in Explanation, Reduction, and Emergence. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Bickle, J. 2006. “Multiple Realizability.” In Zalta, E. Ed. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.; last accessed 28-10-06.

Butterfield, J. 2011. “Emergence, Reduction and Supervenience: A Varied Landscape.” Foundations of Physics 41: 920 -959.

Fodor, J. A. 1974. “Special Sciences (or: the Disunity of Sciences as a Working Hypothesis).” Synthese 28 :97–115.

Hempel, C. G. 1969. “Reduction: Linguistic and Ontological Issues.” In Morgenbesser, S.,  Suppes, P., and White, M. Eds. Philosophy, Science, and Method: Essays in Honor of Ernest Nagel. New York: St. Martin’s Press, pp. 179 -199.

Hempel. C. G. 1965. “Aspects of Scientific Explanation.” In Hempel, C. G. Aspects of Scientific Explanation and Other Essays in the Philosophy of Science. New York: Free Press, pp. 333 -496.

Hempel, C. G. and Oppenheim, P. 1948. “Studies in the Logic of Explanation.” Philosophy of Science 15: 135 -175.

PHL 384K • The Analytic Tradition

42860 • Spring 2013
Meets TH 630pm-930pm WAG 316



Graduate Standing and Consent of Graduate Advisor or instructor required.

Course Description

This seminar will be an introduction to the philosophy of science--intended to prepare students for further coursework and research--through a close critical look at logical empiricism (in particular, Carnap) and its critics. After a short look at the philosophical and scientific background of the logical empiricist movement and at the history of the Vienna Circle, particular attention will be paid to that movement’s contributions to the philosophy of logic and mathematics, analyses of the structure of scientific theories and explanations, claims about ontology, attempts at constructing a formal epistemology of science, and account of the nature of scientific change. The logical empiricists read during the seminar will include Schlick, Neurath, Reichenbach, Hempel, and Nagel (besides Carnap). The empiricist theses that will be examined will include: (i) the rejection of metaphysics; (ii) conventionalism regarding logic and ontology; (iii) the logicist interpretation of mathematics; (iv) semantics as a foundation for logic; (iv) a sharp distinction between the analytic and the synthetic; (v) the instrumentalist interpretation of scientific theories; (vi) the logical interpretation of probability; and (vii) the possibility of a formal epistemology that captures the historical development of science. The differences between the logical empiricists with respect to these theses will be noted in order to emphasize the openness of mind and high critical standards and logical rigor that they brought to philosophy. The external critics of logical empiricism discussed in this seminar will include Popper, Feyerabend, Kuhn and Quine. Finally, an attempt will be made to assess the legacy of logical empiricism in epistemology, the philosophy of language and the philosophy of science.


One term paper due at the end of the semester.


Readings will be available on Blackboard.

PHL 325C • Environmental Ethics

43000-43010 • Spring 2011
Meets TTH 330pm-430pm WAG 420

This is a course on environmental philosophy with a focus on environmental ethics but also treating epistemological issues. Much of the course will be a survey of major problem areas including intrinsic and instrumental value of environmental features, decision analysis, animal rights, biodiversity, restoration, sustainability, environmental justice, and climate change. The emphasis will be on using locally pertinent case studies to analyze philosophical problems arising from environmental concerns.



These are in the order in which they will be treated in class. Unless explicitly indicated otherwise, all readings are available on Blackboard.

Ferry, L. 1995. The New Ecological Order. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Darnton, R. 1984. The Great Cat Massacre, and Other Episodes in French Cultural History. New York: Basic Books.

Sarkar, S. 2009. Environmental Philosophy. Book mss.

McShane, K. 2007. "Why Environmental Ethics Shouldn't Give Up on Intrinsic Value." Environmental Ethics 29: 43 -61.

Soulé, M. E. 1985. What is Conservation Biology? BioScience 35:727 –734.

Solow, R. M. 1993. “Sustainability: An Economist’s Perspective.” In Dorfman, R. and Dorfman, N. S. Eds. Economics of the Environment. New York: W. W. Norton, pp. 179 -187.

Norton, B. G. and Toman, M. A. 1997. “Sustainability: Ecological and Economic Perspectives.” Land Economics 73: 553 -568

Martinez-Alier, J. “The Environment as a Luxury Good or 'Too Poor to Be Green'?” Ecological Economics  13: 1 -10.

More texts will be added as the semester progresses.


  1. Each Tuesday, before class begins, students are required to turn in 10 typed questions raised by all of that week’s readings. These are worth 10 % of the final grade.
  2. There will be three in-class open-book examinations, each worth 20 % of the grade. Please bring your own blue book and use the same book for all three examinations.
  3. One 1 200-word typed paper will be due on 29 April 2010 and will be worth 30 % of the grade; or a (joint) project report must be delivered on 29 April or 4 May 2010 and will be worth 30 % of the grade. Possible paper and report topics will be uploaded on Blackboard.

PHL 316K • Science And Philosophy

42320-42330 • Spring 2009
Meets TTH 1230pm-130pm WAG 420

This course will examine the growth and development of science in modern times
through the history of certain crucial debates and breakthroughs that have taken place
since the beginnings of modern science in the 17th century. Topics considered will
include: what is the nature of science? Does it have a distinctive method (or methods)
that distinguish it from other forms of inquiry? What are its criteria of truth? Can science
ever achieve certainty, and if not, does it have any distinctive claims on our belief, and if
so why? What are the mechanisms of scientific progress and change? How does science
relate to, and differ from, other forms of intellectual inquiry?

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