Elliott Sober

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Elliott 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. Sober taught for one year at Stanford University and has been a regular visiting professor at the London School of Economics. He earned his Ph.D in philosophy from Harvard University[2] under the supervision of Hilary Putnam. His work has also been strongly influenced by the biologist Richard Lewontin, and he has collaborated with biologist David Sloan Wilson. Sober has been a prominent critic of intelligent design.

Sober has served as the president of both the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association and the Philosophy of Science Association. He will be president of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science (Division of Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science) from 2012 until 2015.[3]

One of Sober's key fields of research has been the subject of simplicity or parsimony in connection with theory evaluation in the philosophy of science. To this end he published Reconstructing the Past: Parsimony, Evolution and Inference (1988) and, subsequently, a number of influential articles in mainstream philosophical journals.

Sober 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’s most recent books discuss the concept of evidence and a collection of articles on Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Besides contributing to philosophy, Sober also works in the field of social psychology. Sober is currently on the Editorial Board of Greater Good Magazine, published by the Greater Good Science Center of the University of California, Berkeley. Sober's contributions include the interpretation of scientific research into the roots of compassion, altruism, and peaceful human relationships.

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."[4] 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".[5]

Published books

  • 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.
  • 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. Retrieved 28 September 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Elliott Sober on Darwin and Intelligent Design
  3. http://www.philsci.org/news/2011/08.html
  4. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/biology-philosophy/
  5. Mayr, Ernst. Paleobiology, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Spring, 1986), pp. 233–239

External links