I joined the department in 2009, after being a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cambridge and King’s College London, and a Teaching Associate at the University of Bristol. I received my MA and PhD (2006) from King’s College London. Before coming to the UK, I studied biology in Germany and the USA and obtained a PhD in zoology. In 2016, I was a Visiting Professor for the Philosophy of the Life Sciences at Utrecht University.
Philosophy of Science, especially the History and Philosophy of Biology
My research focuses on causation in biology, mechanistic explanation, and the nature of purportedly informational or representational phenomena. Much of my work addresses these issues in the context of molecular biology and animal behaviour studies. The overall goal of my work is a better understanding of biology as it is actually practiced, its fundamental concepts, its ontological commitments, its tools and methods. Some of my work employs historical research to address the philosophical issues at stake.
Curently I work on the following projects:
1) A monograph about the theoretical roles of genetic information and genetic coding (under contract with Springer). I investigate how these metaphors were used in practice by the scientists who first promoted their use in the 1950s. This is a project in integrated HPS.
2) A paper on the role of diagrammes in biological research. This paper also adopts the integrated HPS approach.
British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship, to be held in 2019, for "Scientific Metaphors in Action".
Scientists have described genes as packets of instructions for building organisms, a view that has strongly affected the public imagination of human nature. Although historians and philosophers of biology have questioned the cogency of this view, the debate still proceeds without understanding how scientists employ the various informational metaphors within actual research practice. Such understanding, however, is essential for answering the most pressing questions: 1) Are the metaphors referential? 2) What are the referents? 3) Do the metaphors play any valuable scientific roles? This project will answer these questions by employing a novel approach, i.e. by identifying how scientists employed informational metaphors in practice. The project focuses on a central historical episode (1953 – 1958) and considers a broad range of primary sources, both published and unpublished. Investigating the implications for contemporary life sciences forms part of the project.
2018/19 (first half-session)
PH1027 Controversial Questions
We examine questions such as: Is eating animals immoral? Is being a good or bad person a matter of luck? If so, are we justified in punishing bad people? Should anyone be able to set limits on what you can do with your own body, even if it's ‘for your own good’? Should everyone be allowed to state their mind, even if their views are harmful or offensive? Is censorship ever justifiable? Do you have a moral obligation to help those worse-off? Are you unknowingly biased against underprivileged groups? [co-taught]
PH2038 Metaphysics and Epistemology
This course provides students with an introduction to central issues in metaphysics and epistemology. The emphasis is on introducing some of the central issues in these areas; issues that have shaped the contemporary debate. In addition to introducing a number of central issues in metaphysics and epistemology, this course also teaches and further develops a number of essential skills including extracting and evaluating philosophical arguments, critical writing, and the application of logical concepts to philosophical problems. [co-taught]
PH304F/404F Sex, Race and Disability
Some of the most pervasive forms of discrimination are based on sex, sexual orientation, race, and disabilities. Each of these categories straddles the boundaries between facts and values. This course investigates the extent to which they reflect biological features and value judgements and how they underpin intuitions about what is ‘natural’, ‘abnormal’, ‘innate’ or ‘a matter of choice’.