First cycle
degree courses
Second cycle
degree courses
Single cycle
degree courses
School of Science
Course unit
SCP3054388, A.A. 2018/19

Information concerning the students who enrolled in A.Y. 2017/18

Information on the course unit
Degree course Second cycle degree in
SC1179, Degree course structure A.Y. 2009/10, A.Y. 2018/19
bring this page
with you
Number of ECTS credits allocated 8.0
Type of assessment Mark
Course unit English denomination PHILOSOPHY OF BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES
Website of the academic structure
Department of reference Department of Biology
E-Learning website
Mandatory attendance
Language of instruction English
Single Course unit The Course unit can be attended under the option Single Course unit attendance
Optional Course unit The Course unit can be chosen as Optional Course unit

Teacher in charge DIETELMO PIEVANI M-FIL/02

Course unit code Course unit name Teacher in charge Degree course code

ECTS: details
Type Scientific-Disciplinary Sector Credits allocated
Educational activities in elective or integrative disciplines M-FIL/02 Logic and Philosophy of Science 8.0

Course unit organization
Period First semester
Year 2nd Year
Teaching method frontal

Type of hours Credits Teaching
Hours of
Individual study
Lecture 8.0 64 136.0 No turn

Start of activities 01/10/2018
End of activities 18/01/2019

Examination board
Board From To Members of the board
6 FILOSOFIA DELLE SCIENZE BIOLOGICHE 2018-2019 01/10/2018 30/11/2019 PIEVANI DIETELMO (Presidente)
PAGANI LUCA (Supplente)
5 FILOSOFIA DELLE SCIENZE BIOLOGICHE 2017/2018 01/10/2017 25/11/2018 PIEVANI DIETELMO (Presidente)
PAGANI LUCA (Supplente)

Prerequisites: Prior knowledge needed for the classes in Philosophy of Biological Sciences is that normally provided for students at the third year of the first degree (mainly in Biology, but not only). Particularly, the basic understanding of Evolutionary Biology, in its fundamental principles and processes, is required. Students should also have sufficient and basic capacities for argumentation and expression, enabling them to defend a thesis and grasp the contents of a scientific debate, actively participating in the discussion of case-studies. The classes (in English) are primarily intended for students from the Department of Biology, but the involvement of students from other careers, such as particularly Philosophy, is not precluded. The construction of a heterogeneous class of students every year is indeed an asset, given the interactive teaching provided in the classes. However, for logistic reasons, students enrolled in degrees other than Evoliìutionary Biology and Philosophy, will be accepted until the capacity of the assigned room is reached.
Target skills and knowledge: Contents and skills to be acquired at the end of the classes in Philosophy of Biological Sciences belong mainly to four areas:
1) basic of the scientific method in general (hypotheses, theories, paradigms, models, explanations, inferences, research protocols and methodologies) and the specificity of scientific inquiries in life sciences;
2) essential lines of the history of biological thought by Charles Darwin on, in order to understand the origins of scientific debates still relevant today;
3) conceptual and terminological analysis applied to Evolutionary Biology and Phylogeny (eg, notions of function, progress, case, Tree Thinking, realism, explanatory pluralism, etc);
4) insights and case-studies on open debates and scientific controversies in contemporary Evolutionary Biology, with the aim at understanding the advances of the current neo-Darwinian evolutionary research program.
Examination methods: Examination is oral and aims at the evaluation of both scientific and philosophical skills acquired, through open-ended questions and requests for argumentation and comparison of different theses and models. The examination (in Italian or in English) is divided into a common part and a monographic part. The common part includes textbooks, books and articles that provide a general overview of the contents of the discipline. The examination also provides the monographic choice, by the students, of one of the cases discussed during the classes, on which a specific study with further bibliography (usually two chapters of books or additional papers) is required. Attendance is strongly recommended, due to the teaching by interactive methods and case-studies. Students unable to attend a percentage of classes have to agree the schedule personally with the teacher.
Assessment criteria: Evaluation criteria are:
- Argumentative skills;
- Accuracy and competence in the terminology adopted during the oral examination;
- Ability to debate the case-study inside the more general frame of the Philosophy of Biological Sciences;
- Ability to join historical, epistemological and scientific data during the discussion of the case-study;
- Acquired knowledge about all the cases of Evolutionary Biology discussed in the lessons.
Course unit contents: The course aims at deepening the fundamental concepts, principles and analytical methods of the philosophy of biology, according to current International debates, namely: types of explanation and inferences in biological sciences; notions of theory, hypothesis, empirical basis, model, falsifiability, parsimony, prediction; biological terminology; biological ontology; selection of models and probability; research protocols; logic of scientific discovery in life sciences; scientific controversies; defensive and argumentative strategies. These general objectives are addressed through critical discussion of case-studies - both historical and taken from primary scientific literature - in particular about Evolutionary Biology and the structure of evolutionary theory.
The general themes in philosophy of life science will also be developed through the analysis of the logic of scientific discovery in Charles Darwin's work, extrapolated from his unpublished private texts, such as the Notebooks of Transmutation, and the working papers that led to the peculiar argumentative structure of the Origin of Species in its six editions. Darwin's thoughts, assumptions and insights, in their typical theoretical pluralism, will become another starting point to discuss evolutionary issues debated in the scientific literature today. Among the others:
- Notions of "species";
- Tempo and mode of speciation (gradualism and punctuationism);
- Variation and inheritance;
- Evolution, ecology and biogeography;
- Functional factors and structural factors (adaptations and constraints) in evolutionary change;
- Common descent (Tree Thinking) and natural selection;
- Explanatory power of selective mechanisms;
- Units of evolution and levels of selection (the debate about the evolution of altruism);
- Relationships between ontogeny and phylogeny;
- The role of "chance" in evolution;
- Teleology and contingency;
- Darwin's risky predictions.
Planned learning activities and teaching methods: The course is structured in 32 lessons, two hours each, in English. Every lesson has a uniform frame, dealing with a specific topic or a case-study. The lesson includes an initial presentation of the teacher, who introduces the theme or case in its basic features and allows students to have basic information around it. The case is then deepened showing different angles of interpretation and possibly alternative approaches. Students are asked to take a stand and confront with each other, through free discussions, dialogues and questions to the teacher. An interactive and participatory learning emerges from the dialogue. The teacher moderates the discussion and underlights interventions relevant to the frame of the case, from time to time by introducing the concepts and terms of the philosophy of biological sciences, not in a merely theoretical way but as effectively emerging from the case-study. In the final part of the lesson the teacher proposes the concluding remarcks of the case-study, synthesizing the central message. During the lesson, students can participate freely to the discussion and are urged to do so. For each lesson, the teacher suggests further reading, which can be classical texts of biological thought, or more specialized papers. The first lesson is introductory and prepares the class to the disciplinary jargon that will be adopted. In the last lesson the teacher provides a summary of all cases, introduces students to the bibliographies of monographic cases and gives advices for the choice. During the course there will be presentations of experts (from the faculty or outsider) on specific topics, different from year to year. No labs or tutorials are scheduled. The students of the classes in Philosophy of Biologial Sciences are invited to attend the "Special Lectures on Evolution", with International speakers, held at the Department of Biology every year.
Additional notes about suggested reading: The materials for study are:
- 1) Slides for each lesson, made ​​available to students by e-learning a few days after the lesson; PPT presentations allow students to follow the thread of the discussion, case-study after case-study;
- 2) Texts and textbooks of the common part;
- 3) Scientific papers and reviews indicated for each case-study (monographic part);
- 4) Further texts (optional) suggested during the classes.
Textbooks (and optional supplementary readings)
  • S. Okasha, Il primo libro di filosofia della scienza. Torino: Einaudi, 2006. Cerca nel catalogo
  • T. Pievani, La teoria dell'evoluzione. Bologna: Il Mulino, 2017. Cerca nel catalogo
  • Aa. Vv., Articoli specifici di approfondimento (in inglese) su casi recenti di dibattito.. --: --, 2018.

Innovative teaching methods: Teaching and learning strategies
  • Lecturing
  • Laboratory
  • Problem based learning
  • Case study
  • Interactive lecturing
  • Working in group
  • Questioning
  • Action learning
  • Story telling
  • Use of online videos

Innovative teaching methods: Software or applications used
  • Moodle (files, quizzes, workshops, ...)

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
Quality Education Life Below Water Life on Land