Alexander Rosenberg

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Alexander Rosenberg (born 1946) is an American philosopher, and the R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy at Duke University. He is also a novelist.[1]


Rosenberg attended the City College of New York where he graduated with a B.A. in 1967. He received his Ph.D from the Johns Hopkins University in 1971. He won the Lakatos Award in 1993 and was the National Phi Beta Kappa Romanell Lecturer in 2006.[2]

Rosenberg is an atheist. He describes himself as a Scientistic naturalist.[3][4]

Research and scholarship

His early work focused on the philosophy of social science and especially the philosophy of economics. His doctoral dissertation, published as Microeconomic Laws in 1976, was the first treatment of the nature of economics by a contemporary philosopher of science. Over the period of the next decade he became increasingly skeptical about neoclassical economics as an empirical theory.

Rosenberg later shifted to work on issues in the philosophy of science that are raised by biology. He became especially interested in the relationship between molecular biology and other parts of biology. Rosenberg introduced the concept of supervenience to the treatment of intertheoretical relations in biology, soon after Donald Davidson began to exploit Richard Hare's notion in the philosophy of psychology. Rosenberg is among the few biologists and fewer philosophers of science who reject the consensus view that combines physicalism with antireductionism (see his 2010 on-line debate with John Dupré at Philosophy TV).

Rosenberg also coauthored an influential book on David Hume with Tom Beauchamp, Hume and the Problem of Causation, arguing that Hume was not a skeptic about induction but an opponent of rationalist theories of inductive inference.

In 2009 Rosenberg participated in on-line debates about economics prompted by the 2008 recession and by Paul Krugman's assessment of economic theory's response to it. He published an Op/Ed article on the subject (with Tyler Curtain) in the New York Times, "What is Economics Good for?" in 2013.

Critical discussions of Rosenberg’s work

Rosenberg’s treatment of fitness as a supervenient property which is an undefined concept in the theory of natural selection is criticized by Brandon and Beatty.[5] His original development of how the supervenience of Mendelian concepts blocks traditional derivational reduction was examined critically by C. Kenneth Waters.[6] His later account of reduction in developmental biology were criticized by Günter Wagner.[7] Elliott Sober's "Multiple realization arguments against reductionism"[8] reflects a shift towards Rosenberg's critique of anti-reductionist arguments of Putnam's and Fodor's.

But Sober has also challenged Rosenberg’s view that the principle of natural selection is the only biological law.[9]

The explanatory role of the principle of natural selection and the nature of evolutionary probabilities defended by Rosenberg were subject to counter arguments by Brandon[10] and later by Denis Walsh.[11] Rosenberg's account of the nature of drift and the role of probability in the theory of natural selection draws on significant parallels between the principle of natural selection and the second law of thermodynamics.

In the philosophy of social science, Rosenberg’s more skeptical views about microeconomics were challenged first by Wade Hands[12] and later by Daniel Hausman in several books and articles.[13] The financial crisis of 2008–09 resulted in renewed attention to Rosenberg's skeptical views about microeconomics. Biologist Richard Lewontin and historian Joseph Fracchia express skepticism about Rosenberg’s claim that functional explanations in social science require Darwinian underlying mechanisms.[14]

The Atheist's Guide to Reality

In 2011 Rosenberg published a defense of what he called "Scientism"—the claim that "the persistent questions" people ask about the nature of reality, the purpose of things, the foundations of value and morality, the way the mind works, the basis of personal identity, and the course of human history, could all be answered by the resources of science. This book was attacked on the front cover of The New Republic by Leon Wieseltier as "The worst book of the year".[15] Leon Wiseltier's claim, in turn, was critiqued as exaggeration by Philip Kitcher in the New York Times Book Review.[16] On February 1, 2013, Rosenberg debated Christian philosopher William Lane Craig over the topics discussed in The Atheist's Guide to Reality.[17]

Rosenberg has contributed articles to the New York Times Op/Ed series The Stone, on naturalism, science and the humanities, and meta-ethics, that arise from the views he advanced in The Atheist's Guide to Reality.[18][19][20]

Administrative career in undergraduate education

Rosenberg was associate director of the Arts and Sciences College Honors Program at Syracuse University, established the University Honors Program at the University of California, Riverside and directed the honors program at the University of Georgia. At Georgia he redesigned and organized the Foundation Fellows Program. From 2007 to 2013 he was the director of the Angier B. Duke Memorial Scholarship Program.[21]


  • Microeconomic Laws: A Philosophical Analysis (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976)
  • Sociobiology and the Preemption of Social Science (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980; Basil Blackwell, 1981)
  • Hume and the Problem of Causation (Oxford University Press, 1981) (with T.L. Beauchamp)
  • The Structure of Biological Science (Cambridge University Press, 1985)
  • Philosophy of Social Science (Clarendon Press, Oxford and Westview Press, 1988, fifth Edition, 2015)
  • Economics: Mathematical Politics or Science of Diminishing Returns? (University of Chicago Press, 1992)
  • Instrumental Biology, or the Disunity of Science (University of Chicago Press, 1994)
  • Darwinism in Philosophy, Social Science and Policy (Cambridge University Press, 2000)
  • Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Approach (Routledge, 2000, third edition 2011), translations in Chinese, Japanese, Portuegese and Turkish.
  • Darwinian Reductionism or How to Stop Worrying and Love Molecular Biology (University of Chicago Press, 2006)
  • The Philosophy of Biology: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge, 2007) (with Daniel McShea)
  • Philosophy of Biology: An Anthology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) (with Robert Arp)
  • The Atheist's Guide to Reality (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011)
  • The Girl From Krakow (Lake Union, 2015)

See also


  3. Alexander Rosenberg (September 17, 2011). "Why I Am a Naturalist". New York Times. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Alexander Rosenberg (November 6, 2011). "Bodies in Motion: An Exchange". New York Times. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. in “The Propensity Interpretation of 'Fitness'--No Interpretation Is No Substitute,” Philosophy of Science, Vol. 51, No. 2, 1984.
  6. in “Rosenberg's rebellion”, Biology and Philosophy, 1990.
  7. “How Molecular is Molecular Developmental Biology? A Reply to Alex Rosenberg's Reductionism Redux: Computing the Embryo”, Biology and Philosophy, 2001.
  8. Philosophy of Science, vol. 66, 1999
  9. in “Two Outbreaks of Lawlessness in Recent Philosophy of Biology,” Philosophy of Science, Vol. 64, No. 4, 1996 as did Kim Sterelny and Paul E. Griffiths, Sex and Death.
  10. in “The Indeterministic Character of Evolutionary Theory: No "No Hidden Variables Proof" but No Room for Determinism Either” Philosophy of Science, Vol. 63, No. 3 1996
  11. “The Pomp of Superfluous Causes: The Interpretation of Evolutionary Theory”, Philosophy of Science Vol. 74, No. 3, 2007.
  12. in “What Economics Is Not: An Economist's Response to Rosenberg,” Philosophy of Science, Vol. 51, No. 3 1984
  13. including “Economic Methodology in a Nutshell," The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 3, No. 2 1989.
  14. “Does Culture Evolve?” History and Theory 38 (4),1999.
  15. Leon Wieseltier. "Leon Wieseltier: The Answers – The New Republic". The New Republic.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Kitcher, Philip (March 23, 2012). "Alex Rosenberg's 'The Atheist's Guide to Reality'". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Is Faith in God Reasonable?". Symposia Christi. Retrieved January 18, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Alexander Rosenberg (September 17, 2011). "Why I Am a Naturalist". New York Times. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Alexander Rosenberg (November 6, 2011). "Bodies in Motion: An Exchange". New York Times. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Alexander Rosenberg (July 13, 2015). "Can Moral Disputes be Resolved". New York Times. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Angier B. Duke Memorial Scholarship – Contact Information

External links