Elliott Sober

Elliott R. Sober (born 6 June 1948, Baltimore) is Hans Reichenbach Professor and William F. Vilas Research Professor in the Department of Philosophy at University of Wisconsin–Madison.[1] Sober is noted for his work in philosophy of biology and general philosophy of science.[2]

Academic career

Sober earned his Ph.D in philosophy from Harvard University[3] under the supervision of Hilary Putnam, after doing graduate work at Cambridge University under the supervision of Mary Hesse. His work has also been strongly influenced by the biologist Richard Lewontin, and he has collaborated with David Sloan Wilson,[4][5] Steven Orzack[6][7] and Mike Steel,[8][9] also biologists.

Sober has served as the president of both the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association[10] and the Philosophy of Science Association.[11] He was president of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science (Division of Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science) from 2012 until 2015.[12] He taught for one year at Stanford University and has been a regular visiting professor at the London School of Economics.

Since 2013, Sober has been listed on the Advisory Council of the National Center for Science Education.[13]


One of Sober's main fields of research has been the subject of simplicity or parsimony in connection with theory evaluation in science. Sober also has been interested in altruism, both as the concept is used in evolutionary biology and also as it is used in connection with human psychology. His book with David Sloan Wilson, Unto Others: the Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior (1998), addresses both topics.

Sober has been a prominent critic of intelligent design.[14][15][16] He also has written about evidence and probability,[17] scientific realism and instrumentalism,[18] laws of nature,[19] the mind-body problem[20] and naturalism.[21]

Philosophy of biology

Sober's The Nature of Selection: Evolutionary Theory in Philosophical Focus (1984) has been instrumental in establishing the philosophy of biology as a prominent research area in philosophy. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "The Nature of Selection...marks the point at which most philosophers became aware of the philosophy of biology."[22] In his review of the book, biologist Ernst Mayr wrote "Sober has ... given us what is perhaps the most careful and penetrating analysis of the concept of natural selection as it affects the process of evolution".[23]


Sober's first publication on parsimony was his 1975 book, Simplicity. In it, he argued that the simplicity of a hypothesis should be understood in terms of a concept of question-relative informativeness. Sober abandoned this theory in the 1980s when he started to think about the concept of cladistic parsimony used in evolutionary biology. This led him to think of parsimony in terms of the concept of likelihood, an idea he developed in his 1988 book Reconstructing the Past: Parsimony, Evolution, and Inference. In the 1990s he started to think about the role of parsimony in model selection theory—for example, in the Akaike Information Criterion. He published a series of articles in this area with Malcolm Forster, the first of which was their 1994 paper "How to Tell When Simpler, More Unified, or Less Ad Hoc Theories Will Provide More Accurate Predictions." His most recent publication on parsimony, his 2015 book Ockham's Razors: A User's Manual, describes both the likelihood framework and the model selection frameworks as two viable "parsimony paradigms."

Published books

  • The Design Argument, Cambridge University Press, 2018.
  • Ockham’s Razors – A User’s Manual, Cambridge University Press, 2015.
  • Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards, Prometheus Books, 2011.
  • Evidence and Evolution, Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • (edited with Steven Orzack) Adaptationism and Optimality, Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • (with David S. Wilson) Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior, Harvard University Press, 1998; Spanish edition, Siglo Veintiouno de España Editores, 2000.
  • From a Biological Point of View: Essays in Evolutionary Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 1994.
  • Philosophy of Biology, Westview Press (in UK: Oxford University Press), 1993; 2nd edition, 1999; Spanish edition, Alianza, 1996; Chinese edition, 2000; Korean edition, Chul Hak Kwa Hyun Sil Sa Publishing Co., 2004.
  • (with Erik Wright and Andrew Levine) Reconstructing Marxism: Essays on Explanation and the Theory of History, Verso Press, 1992; Portuguese edition, 1993.
  • Core Questions in Philosophy: A Text with Readings, Macmillan, 1990; 2nd edition, Prentice Hall, 1995; 3rd edition, 2000; 4th edition, 2005; 5th edition, 2008; 6th edition, 2013.
  • Reconstructing the Past: Parsimony, Evolution, and Inference, Bradford/MIT Press, 1988; Japanese edition, Souju Publishers, Tokyo, 1996.
  • The Nature of Selection: Evolutionary Theory in Philosophical Focus, Bradford/MIT Press, 1984; 2nd edition, University of Chicago Press, 1993.
  • (edited) Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology: An Anthology, Bradford/MIT Press, 1984; 2nd edition 1993.
  • Simplicity, Oxford University Press, 1975.


  1. ^ "Elliott Sober". University of Wisconsin. 233. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
  2. ^ Pfeifer, Jessica. "2014 Hempel Award Winner Announced". www.philsci.org. Retrieved 2016-01-27.
  3. ^ Elliott Sober on Darwin and Intelligent Design
  4. ^ Wilson, D. S.; Sober, E. (1989-02-08). "Reviving the superorganism". Journal of Theoretical Biology. 136 (3): 337–356. doi:10.1016/s0022-5193(89)80169-9. ISSN 0022-5193. PMID 2811397.
  5. ^ Sober, E.; Wilson, D. S. (2011-02-01). "Adaptation and Natural Selection revisited". Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 24 (2): 462–468. doi:10.1111/j.1420-9101.2010.02162.x. ISSN 1420-9101. PMID 21226890.
  6. ^ Orzack, Steven Hecht; Sober, Elliott (1993). "A Critical Assessment of Levins's The Strategy of Model Building in Population Biology (1966)". The Quarterly Review of Biology. 68 (4): 533–546. doi:10.1086/418301.
  7. ^ Sober, Elliott; Orzack, Steven Hecht (2003-09-01). "Common Ancestry and Natural Selection". The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 54 (3): 423–437. CiteSeerX doi:10.1093/bjps/54.3.423. ISSN 0007-0882.
  8. ^ Sober, Elliott; Steel, Mike (2014-10-01). "Time and Knowability in Evolutionary Processes". Philosophy of Science. 81 (4): 558–579. arXiv:1301.6470. doi:10.1086/677954. ISSN 0031-8248.
  9. ^ Sober, Elliott; Steel, Mike (2015-11-14). "Similarities as Evidence for Common Ancestry: A Likelihood Epistemology". The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 68 (3): 617–638. arXiv:1501.04665. doi:10.1093/bjps/axv052. ISSN 0007-0882.
  10. ^ "APA Divisional Presidents and Addresses - The American Philosophical Association". www.apaonline.org. Retrieved 2016-01-25.
  11. ^ Julien, Alec. "Governance History". philsci.org. Retrieved 2016-01-25.
  12. ^ http://www.philsci.org/news/2011/08.html
  13. ^ "Advisory Council". ncse.com. National Center for Science Education. 2008-07-15. Archived from the original on 2013-08-10. Retrieved 2018-10-30.
  14. ^ Sober, Elliott (2002-01-01). "Intelligent Design and Probability Reasoning". International Journal for Philosophy of Religion. 52 (2): 65–80. doi:10.1023/a:1019579220694. JSTOR 40036455.
  15. ^ Mann, William (2004). The Blackwell Guide to Philosophy of Religion. Malden: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 117–147. ISBN 978-0-631-22128-9.
  16. ^ Sober, Elliott (March 2007). "What Is Wrong With Intelligent Design?". The Quarterly Review of Biology. 82 (1): 3–8. CiteSeerX doi:10.1086/511656. PMID 17354991.
  17. ^ EPSA Philosophy of Science: Amsterdam 2009 | Henk W. de Regt | Springer. www.springer.com. ISBN 9789400724037. Retrieved 2016-01-27.
  18. ^ Sober, Elliott (2002-09-01). "Instrumentalism, Parsimony, and the Akaike Framework". Philosophy of Science. 69 (S3): S112–S123. doi:10.1086/341839. ISSN 0031-8248.
  19. ^ Sober, Elliott (2011-12-01). "A Priori Causal Models of Natural Selection". Australasian Journal of Philosophy. 89 (4): 571–589. doi:10.1080/00048402.2010.535006. ISSN 0004-8402.
  20. ^ Sober, Elliott (1999). "link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A%253A1004519608950". Philosophical Studies. 95: 135–174. doi:10.1023/a:1004519608950.
  21. ^ Kvanvig, Jonathan (2011). Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 187–221. ISBN 978-0199603220.
  22. ^ http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/biology-philosophy/
  23. ^ Mayr, Ernst. Paleobiology, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Spring, 1986), pp. 233–239

External links

American Philosophical Association

The American Philosophical Association (APA) is the main professional organization for philosophers in the United States. Founded in 1900, its mission is to promote the exchange of ideas among philosophers, to encourage creative and scholarly activity in philosophy, to facilitate the professional work and teaching of philosophers, and to represent philosophy as a discipline.

Analyzing Marx

Analyzing Marx: Morality, Power and History is a 1984 book about Karl Marx by the political philosopher Richard W. Miller.

David Sloan Wilson

David Sloan Wilson (born 1949) is an American evolutionary biologist and a Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences and Anthropology at Binghamton University. He is a son of the author Sloan Wilson and co-founder of the Evolution Institute.

Evolutionary ethics

Evolutionary ethics is a field of inquiry that explores how evolutionary theory might bear on our understanding of ethics or morality. The range of issues investigated by evolutionary ethics is quite broad. Supporters of evolutionary ethics have claimed that it has important implications in the fields of descriptive ethics, normative ethics, and metaethics.

Descriptive evolutionary ethics consists of biological approaches to morality based on the alleged role of evolution in shaping human psychology and behavior. Such approaches may be based in scientific fields such as evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, or ethology, and seek to explain certain human moral behaviors, capacities, and tendencies in evolutionary terms. For example, the nearly universal belief that incest is morally wrong might be explained as an evolutionary adaptation that furthered human survival.

Normative (or prescriptive) evolutionary ethics, by contrast, seeks not to explain moral behavior, but to justify or debunk certain normative ethical theories or claims. For instance, some proponents of normative evolutionary ethics have argued that evolutionary theory undermines certain widely held views of humans' moral superiority over other animals.

Evolutionary metaethics asks how evolutionary theory bears on theories of ethical discourse, the question of whether objective moral values exist, and the possibility of objective moral knowledge. For example, some evolutionary ethicists have appealed to evolutionary theory to defend various forms of moral anti-realism (the claim, roughly, that objective moral facts do not exist) and moral skepticism.

Fine-tuned Universe

The fine-tuned Universe is the proposition that the conditions that allow life in the Universe can occur only when certain universal dimensionless physical constants lie within a very narrow range of values, so that if any of several fundamental constants were only slightly different, the Universe would be unlikely to be conducive to the establishment and development of matter, astronomical structures, elemental diversity, or life as it is understood.Various possible explanations of ostensible fine-tuning are discussed among philosophers, scientists, theologians, and proponents and detractors of creationism. The fine-tuned Universe observation is closely related to, but not exactly synonymous with the anthropic principle, which is often used as an explanation of apparent fine-tuning.

Freethought Festival

Freethought Festival is a student-run freethinking convention held annually in Madison, Wisconsin by the student group Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Speakers give talks relating to atheism, freethinking, skepticism, and other topics.

Group selection

Group selection is a proposed mechanism of evolution in which natural selection acts at the level of the group, instead of at the more conventional level of the individual.

Early authors such as V. C. Wynne-Edwards and Konrad Lorenz argued that the behavior of animals could affect their survival and reproduction as groups, speaking for instance of actions for the good of the species. In the 1930s, R.A. Fisher and J.B.S. Haldane proposed the concept of kin selection, arguing that animals should sacrifice for their relatives, and thereby implying that they should not sacrifice for non-relatives; Haldane even jokingly introduced a mathematical basis for familial altruism, suggesting that he would die for two siblings or eight cousins. From the mid 1960s, evolutionary biologists such as John Maynard Smith argued that natural selection acted primarily at the level of the individual. They argued on the basis of mathematical models that individuals would not altruistically sacrifice fitness for the sake of a group. They persuaded the majority of biologists that group selection did not occur, other than in special situations such as the haplodiploid social insects like honeybees (in the Hymenoptera), where kin selection was possible.

In 1994 David Sloan Wilson and Elliott Sober argued for multi-level selection, including group selection, on the grounds that groups, like individuals, could compete. In 2010 three authors including E. O. Wilson, known for his work on social insects especially ants, again revisited the arguments for group selection. They argued that group selection can occur when competition between two or more groups, some containing altruistic individuals who act cooperatively together, is more important for survival than competition between individuals within each group. Their proposals provoked a strong rebuttal from a large group of evolutionary biologists.

Index of analytic philosophy articles

This is a list of articles in analytic philosophy.

A. C. Grayling

A.P. Martinich

Abstract particulars


Alfred Jules Ayer


Analytic-synthetic distinction

Analytic philosophy

Analytic reasoning

Arda Denkel

Arthur Danto

Australian Realism

Avrum Stroll


Berlin Circle

Bernard Williams

Bertrand Russell


Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon

C. D. Broad

Cahiers pour l'Analyse

Carl Gustav Hempel

Ramsey sentence

Charles Sanders Peirce

Chinese room

Cognitive synonymy

Contemporary Pragmatism

Contrast theory of meaning

Cooperative principle

Cora Diamond

Daniel Dennett

Darwin's Dangerous Idea

David Braine (philosopher)

David Kellogg Lewis


Descriptivist theory of names


Direct reference theory

Doctrine of internal relations

Donald Davidson (philosopher)

Doxastic logic

Elbow Room (book)

Elliott Sober


Ernst Mach

Eternal statement

F. C. S. Schiller

Family resemblance

Felicity conditions

Form of life (philosophy)

Frank P. Ramsey

Freedom Evolves

Friedrich Waismann

G. E. M. Anscombe

George Edward Moore

Gilbert Ryle

Gottlob Frege

Gricean maxims

Gustav Bergmann

Hans Hahn

Hans Reichenbach

Hans Sluga

Harvey Brown (philosopher)

Herbert Feigl


Hypothetico-deductive model

Indeterminacy of translation

Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy

Isaiah Berlin

J. L. Austin

Jeff Malpas

Jerry Fodor

John Hick

John Rawls

John Searle

John Wisdom

Jules Vuillemin

Karl Menger

Kit Fine

Kurt Grelling

Kwasi Wiredu

Language, Truth, and Logic

Logical atomism

Logical form

Logical positivism

Lorenzo Peña

Ludwig Wittgenstein

Mark Addis

Mark Sacks

Max Black

Mental representation

Metaphor in philosophy

Michael Dummett

Michael Tye (philosopher)

Modal realism

Moritz Schlick

Naming and Necessity

Nelson Goodman



Norman Malcolm

Oets Kolk Bouwsma

Olaf Helmer

Olga Hahn-Neurath

On Certainty

On Denoting

Ordinary language philosophy

Original proof of Gödel's completeness theorem

Ostensive definition

Otto Neurath

P. F. Strawson

Paradox of analysis

Paul Churchland

Paul Grice

Per Martin-Löf

Peter Hacker

Peter Simons

Philipp Frank

Philippa Foot

Philosophical analysis

Philosophical Investigations

Philosophy of engineering

Philosophy of technology

Pieranna Garavaso

Postanalytic philosophy


Principia Ethica

Principia Mathematica

Private language argument

Process philosophy

Radical translation

Richard von Mises

Robert Audi

Rose Rand

Round square copula

Rudolf Carnap

Rupert Read

Ryle's regress

Speech act

Stephen Laurence

Susan Stebbing

The Bounds of Sense

The Logic of Scientific Discovery

The Mind's I

Theodore Drange

Þorsteinn Gylfason

Tore Nordenstam

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus

Two Dogmas of Empiricism

UCLA Department of Philosophy

Use–mention distinction

Verification theory


Victor Kraft

Vienna Circle

Wilfrid Sellars

Willard Van Orman Quine

William James Lectures

William L. Rowe

William W. Tait

Wolfgang Stegmüller

Word and Object

Zeno Vendler

Index of philosophy of science articles

An index list of articles about the philosophy of science.

Intelligent designer

An intelligent designer, also referred to as an intelligent agent, is the hypothetical willed and self-aware entity that the intelligent design movement argues had some role in the origin and/or development of life. The term "intelligent cause" is also used, implying their teleological supposition of direction and purpose in features of the universe and of living things.

International Union of History and Philosophy of Science

The International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology is one of the members of the International Science Council (ISC). It was founded in 1955 by merging the International Union of History of Science (IUHS) and the International Union of Philosophy of Science (IUPS), and consists of two divisions, the Division of History of Science and Technology (DHST) and the Division of Logic, Methodology and Philosophy of Science and Technology (DLMPST).

Lakatos Award

The Lakatos Award is given annually for an outstanding contribution to the philosophy of science, widely interpreted. The contribution must be in the form of a book published in English during the previous six years.

The Award is in memory of Imre Lakatos and has been endowed by the Latsis Foundation. It is administered by the following committee:

The Director of the London School of Economics (Chairman)

Professor John Worrall (Convenor)

Professor Hans Albert

Professor Nancy Cartwright

Professor Adolf Grünbaum

Professor Philip Kitcher

Professor Alan Musgrave

Professor Michael RedheadThe Committee makes the Award on the advice of an independent and anonymous panel of selectors. The value of the Award is £10,000.

To take up an Award a successful candidate must visit the LSE and deliver a public lecture.

List of philosophers of science

This is a chronological list of philosophers of science. For an alphabetical name-list, see Category:Philosophers of science.

List of works on intelligent design

This is a list of works addressing the subject or the themes of intelligent design.

Mind and Cosmos

Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False is a 2012 book by the philosopher Thomas Nagel.

Occam's razor

Occam's razor (also Ockham's razor or Ocham's razor (Latin: novacula Occami); is the problem-solving principle that states "entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily".

The idea is attributed to English Franciscan friar William of Ockham (c. 1287–1347), a scholastic philosopher and theologian.

It is sometimes misrepresented in pop culture and other media by some form of the statement "The simplest solution is most likely the right one." . This is not a form of Occam's razor, but instead is known as the law of parsimony (Latin: lex parsimoniae)) or the law of simplicity.Occam's Razor instead is saying that when presented with competing hypotheses that make the same predictions, one should select the solution with the fewest assumptions and is not meant to filter out hypotheses that make different predictions.

In science, Occam's razor is used as an abductive heuristic in the development of theoretical models, rather than as a rigorous arbiter between candidate models. In the scientific method, Occam's razor is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic or a scientific result; the preference for simplicity in the scientific method is based on the falsifiability criterion. For each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there may be an extremely large, perhaps even incomprehensible, number of possible and more complex alternatives. Since one can always burden failing explanations with ad hoc hypotheses to prevent them from being falsified, simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are more testable.

Richard Lewontin

Richard Charles "Dick" Lewontin (born March 29, 1929) is an American evolutionary biologist, mathematician, geneticist, and social commentator. A leader in developing the mathematical basis of population genetics and evolutionary theory, he pioneered the application of techniques from molecular biology, such as gel electrophoresis, to questions of genetic variation and evolution.

In a pair of seminal 1966 papers co-authored with J.L. Hubby in the journal Genetics, Lewontin helped set the stage for the modern field of molecular evolution. In 1979 he and Stephen Jay Gould introduced the term "spandrel" into evolutionary theory. From 1973 to 1998, he held an endowed chair in zoology and biology at Harvard University, and since 2003 has been a research professor there.

Lewontin opposes genetic determinism.

What Darwin Got Wrong

What Darwin Got Wrong is a 2010 book by philosopher Jerry Fodor and cognitive scientist Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, in which the authors criticize Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. It is an extension of an argument first presented as "Why Pigs Don't Have Wings" in the London Review of Books.

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