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Sea-shells and Tigers

Philip Kitcher, 18 March 1999

Life’s Other Secret: The New Mathematics of the Living World 
by Ian Stewart.
Penguin, 320 pp., £20, June 1998, 0 7139 9161 5
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... Each week I plot your equations dot for dot, xs against ys in all manner of algebraical relation, and every week they draw themselves as commonplace geometry, as if the world of forms were nothing but arcs and angles. God’s truth, Septimus, if there is an equation for a curve like a bell, there must be an equation for one like a bluebell, and if a bluebell, why not a rose?’ So says Lady Thomasina Coverly, the heroine of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, to her tutor Septimus Hodge ...

Not in my body, thank you

Philip Kitcher: Kauffman’s ‘Investigations’, 1 November 2001

Investigations 
by Stuart Kauffman.
Oxford, 287 pp., £18.99, March 2001, 9780195121049
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... In February 1943, Erwin Schrödinger delivered a series of three lectures in Dublin. A year later, they were published as a book, under the title What Is Life?, so ensuring that Schrödinger’s ideas reached an audience far larger than the four hundred – a number, he wryly notes, which ‘did not substantially dwindle’ over the three lectures – who originally heard him ...

Tall, Slender, Straight and Intelligent

Philip Kitcher: Cloning and reprogenetics, 5 March 1998

Clone: The Road to Dolly and the Path Ahead 
by Gina Kolata.
Allen Lane, 218 pp., £15.99, November 1997, 0 7139 9221 2
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Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World 
by Lee Silver.
Weidenfeld, 315 pp., £20, January 1998, 0 297 84135 1
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... From the late seventies to the mid-Nineties, biological orthodoxy insisted that the artificial production of animals with an identical complement of nuclear genes – clones, in the vernacular – could only be achieved by means of the transfer of nuclei from embryonic cells, and then only in non-mammalian species. There were excellent grounds for insisting on the impossibility of cloning from adult cells ...

Reconstituted Chicken

Philip Kitcher, 2 October 1997

This is Biology 
by Ernst Mayr.
Harvard, 340 pp., £19.95, April 1997, 9780674884687
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... Ernst Mayr is one of the century’s pre-eminent Darwinian evolutionists, who, in the past two decades, has published a magisterial history of biology and many seminal philosophical essays. From the title of this new book, one might expect a tour of the current state of the life sciences, made accessible to non-specialists. His selection of topics, and his way of writing about them, suggest, however, that he is less interested in communicating substantive pieces of biology than in cultivating a particular way of seeing the subject – an attitude that would appear to derive from a pre-occupation with the ideas and controversies of the past ...

You win, I win

Philip Kitcher: Unselfish behaviour, 15 October 1998

Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behaviour 
by Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson.
Harvard, 400 pp., £18.50, May 1998, 0 674 93046 0
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... Organisms that contribute to the reproductive success of their species by doing things that decrease the size of their own brood appear to be inevitable losers in the Darwinian struggle. Since the 19th century, biologists have regarded the evolutionary possibility of altruism as an important theoretical puzzle, and in past decades, it has become clear that it can’t be solved by vague appeals to the idea that co-operative behaviour is good for the flock, the herd or the species ...
The Lives to Come: The Genetic Revolution and Human Possibilities 
by Philip Kitcher.
Allen Lane, 381 pp., £20, April 1996, 0 7139 9129 1
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... with presenting an external, perhaps critical, perspective. Nevertheless, in The Lives to Come, Philip Kitcher provides an outstanding illustration of what the philosophy of science can contribute to public understanding. Molecular genetics, the topic of Kitcher’s book, is surely the area of contemporary research ...

In the Long Cool Hour

Amia Srinivasan: Pragmatic Naturalism, 6 December 2012

The Ethical Project 
by Philip Kitcher.
Harvard, 422 pp., £36.95, November 2011, 978 0 674 06144 6
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... of our personhood, and as important for the scientist as for anyone else. In The Ethical Project, Philip Kitcher attempts to show that there is adequate room for moral reasons in a causal world. As a philosopher and historian of science, Kitcher is wedded to Naturalism, the doctrine that philosophy should posit nothing ...

What Wotan Wants

Jerry Fodor, 5 August 2004

Finding an Ending: Reflections on Wagner’s ‘Ring’ 
by Philip Kitcher and Richard Schacht.
Oxford, 241 pp., £14.99, April 2004, 0 19 517359 7
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... to plumb. What depths? What could possibly be down there? Two new fish have risen to this bait. Philip Kitcher and Richard Schacht’s Finding an Ending proceeds from their conviction that ‘Wagner’s libretto, ponderous and mannered though it may sometimes seem (and be), is charged with life and significance.’ They therefore propose ‘to probe ...

Impossible Conception

T.J. Reed: ‘Death in Venice’, 25 September 2014

Deaths in Venice: The Cases of Gustav von Aschenbach 
by Philip Kitcher.
Columbia, 254 pp., £20.50, November 2013, 978 0 02 311626 1
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... palatable to the middle classes’. The novella’s effect was all the stronger for not being – Philip Kitcher misreads it – about ‘a closet homosexual’ who has ‘refused to acknowledge his sexual inclinations’. Unlike his fully self-aware creator, who, though never a practising homosexual (‘how can one sleep with men?’ he asked in a 1950 ...

Quashed Quotatoes

Michael Wood: Finnegans Wake, 16 December 2010

Finnegans Wake 
by James Joyce, edited by Danis Rose and John O’Hanlon.
Houyhnhnm, 493 pp., £250, March 2010, 978 0 9547710 1 0
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Joyce’s Disciples Disciplined 
edited by Tim Conley.
University College Dublin, 185 pp., £42.50, May 2010, 978 1 906359 46 1
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... introducers of Finnegans Wake regularly imagine three sorts of reader or non-reader of the book. Philip Kitcher, in Joyce’s Kaleidoscope, lists ‘those too intimidated to try to read it, those who have tried and failed, and … those who write about it’. Roger Marsh, the producer of Jim Norton’s and Marcella Riordan’s haunting audio ...

It Got Eaten

Peter Godfrey-Smith: Fodor v. Darwin, 8 July 2010

What Darwin Got Wrong 
by Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini.
Profile, 262 pp., £20, February 2010, 978 1 84668 219 3
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... have suggested in reply that their argument has been misunderstood. In response to Ned Block and Philip Kitcher, for example, they say it was never their intention to claim that there cannot be a fact of the matter about which of two correlated traits ‘causes increased reproductive success’. Rather, their claim is that even if one trait causes ...
... the baillis who first appear in the administrative echelons of the French monarchy in the reign of Philip Augustus, the armed retainers of tenth and 11th-century Japan who attached themselves to regional lords rather than to the central government, the early English factory-owners still operating, so to say, as islands in a sea of small-scale artisan ...

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