IAS-Research Talk (Online), Andrea Gambarotto (UC Louvain), “The Varieties of Kantian Teleology: A Contemporary Assessment”, 01/12/2020, 11:30


To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus


This paper addresses the ways in which Kant’s transcendental views concerning the intrinsic purposiveness of living organisms have been translated into naturalist territory by contemporary philosophy of biology. We critically evaluate the interpretive challenges posed by such endeavours and provide a tentative classification of the various approaches which have been proposed for applying Kant’s ideas today. We first delve into exegetical questions concerning the notions of mechanism and teleology, along with those of constitutive and regulative principles. We then distinguish three approaches to making Kant relevant today, each of which is characterized by a specific idea regarding what is useful about his perspective on teleology. We define those as heuristic, synthetic, and revisionist approaches respectively.

IAS-Research Talk (Online) by Laura Nuño de la Rosa’s (Complutense University of Madrid): “Interviews on evolvability: reconstructing and explaining the recent history of evolutionary biology”

Tuesday, 23/06/2020, at 11:30.

To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus


In my presentation, I will present the results of a series of interviews to evolutionary biologists I have conducted throughout this academic year, in the frame of the project “Evolvability: a new and unifying concept in evolutionary biology”, which has taken place at the Center for Advanced Studies, Norwegian Academy of Arts and Letters. These interviews cover many different topics on theoretical debates and interdisciplinary relationships in evolutionary biology, but in this talk, I will focus on some insights I believe can be gained on the recent history of evolutionary theory. In particular, I will reflect on different causal hypotheses that might explain the explosion of the interest, in the mid-1990s, in the internal capacities of biological systems to evolve. In order to do so, I will use several conceptual tools from evolutionary theory itself that, as I hope to show, can be fruitfully applied to the history of science. 

IAS-Research Talk (Online) by Derek Skillings (University of North Carolina at Greensboro): “Can host-microbiome systems be healthy? Shaping ecosystems vs curing disease”

02/06/2020, at 16:00

To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus

ABSTRACT: Host-associated microbiomes play a variety of important roles in host health and disease. Attempts to understand and make predictions about complex host-microbiome interactions have led many researchers to talk about microbiomes—especially human-associated ones—in terms of being either healthy or dysbiotic. In this presentation I will look at some alternatives for making sense of “healthy microbiome” talk. I will argue that existing “naturalistic”, or non-evaluative, accounts of human health are not appropriate for microbiomes, and that notions of ecosystem health face similar shortcomings. These problems suggest that “microbiome health” might only be definable in evaluative terms and may never extend beyond a metaphor to organismal health. I will end by looking at some possibilities for understanding overall host health given the importance and ubiquity of microbiomes.

IAS-Research Talk (Online) by Giorgio Airoldi (UNED): “Beyond Fitness: Robustness as measure of non-selective evolutionary phenomena “

Date: 16/06/2020, at 11:30

To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus


The last decades have seen the flourishing of accounts of evolutionary forces other than selection, many of which have been collected under the name of Extended Evolutionary Synthesis (ESS) (Laland et al. 2015). The range of phenomena targeted by these accounts spans from genetic mechanisms (e.g. Cherniak & Rodriguez-Esteban 2013, Kimura 1983, Wagner 2015) to developmental (e.g. Maynard Smith  et al. 1985), systemic (e.g. Kauffman 2000) and neo-Lamarckian (e.g. Koonin & Wolf 2009).

Although almost none of them denies the importance and even preponderance of selection in the history of life, and they rather aim at integrating non-selective phenomena into neo-Darwinism (a view known as ‘pluralism’), they are highly criticized by main-stream biology, that either limits or completely denies their evolutionary importance, often underling that their contribution to fitness is immaterial.

In this talk, I claim that fitness, being an intrinsically selective measure, should not be used to judge non-selective phenomena. I show how, by doing so, the theory of selection falls into the well-known pitfall of becoming a truism. To avoid the pitfall, I propose to recur to robustness as a selective-indifferent variable able to account for the contribution to evolution of non-selective forces. After defining robustness, I analyse some of the mechanisms that increase the robustness of a system and I suggest how non-selective phenomena can contribute to the appearance of such mechanisms in organisms. Finally, I propose a classification of evolutionary phenomena in terms of changes of form and function, and I show how fitness and robustness might jointly explain them in a unified, pluralistic account of evolution.


Cherniak, C.; Rodriguez-Esteban, R. (2013). Body maps on the human genome. Mol. Cytogenet. 6 (1): 61Kauffman, S., (2000). Investigations. Oxford University Press.

Kimura, M. (1983). The neutral theory of molecular evolution. Cambridge University Press

Koonin, E. V., Wolf, Y. I (2009). Is evolution Darwinian or/and Lamarckian? Biology Direct, 4:42

Laland K.N., Uller T., Feldman M.W., Sterelny K., Müller G.B., Moczek A., Jablonka E., Odling-Smee J. (2015). The extended evolutionary synthesis: its structure, assumptions and predictions. Proc. R. Soc. B 282: 20151019

Maynard Smith, J., Burian, R., Kauffman, S., Alberch, P., Campbell, J., Goodwin, B., Lande, R., Raup, D., Wolpert, L. (1985). Developmental Constraints and Evolution: A Perspective from the Mountain Lake Conference on Development and Evolution. The Quarterly Review of Biology, (60)  3: 265-287

Wagner, A., (2011), The Origins of Evolutionary Innovations, Oxford University Press

IAS-Research Talk (Online) by Juan M. Loaiza: “Sandboxing: A Specification Hierarchy of Contexts of Constraint Interdependence”

Date: 09/06/2020, at 11:30

To participate, please contact: guglielmo.militello@ehu.eus


In this presentation I propose to bring interest to seemingly peripheral aspects of the theory of organisational closure based on constraint dependencies (Moreno & Mossio, 2015; Montévil & Mossio, 2015). In particular, I show how the theory can generate an alternative mapping of levels or hierarchies of organisation.The question I address is how contexts come about. I use Salthe’s distinction of compositional and specification hierarchies and show how the latter combined with some of the consequences of the constraint-based theory yields an interesting alternative. Compositional (or scalar) hierarchies are almost the default assumption across various disciplines (e.g. by adding parts we can go progressively from subatomic particles to populations, etc.). The alternative consists of an open-ended specification hierarchy of contexts which I call tentatively the “sandboxes” hierarchy (in reference to the metaphor of sandboxing in software development). By focusing on mapping contexts (the periphery), as a complement to the established theory of organisational closure (the centre), I point to possible integrative links across nomothetic and idiographic perspectives.   

IAS-Research Talk by Tim Klaassen (Tilburg University): “Enactivism and the Foundations of Ethics: Some Suggestions on How to Bring the Two Together”

Enactivism and the Foundations of Ethics: Some Suggestions on How to Bring the Two Together

Tim Klaassen (Tilburg University)

Tuesday 4 February at 11.30 Centro Carlos Santamaria (B14)


Can we utilize enactivism as a framework for understanding the foundations of normativity in the moral and political domain? In this talk I suggest a broad outline of an affirmative answer. To begin with, I show, relying on Korsgaard’s “constitutivist” account of the principles of practical reason, that normative standards within the moral domain can be shown to have their source in a moral agent’s distinct mode of autopoiesis. A moral agent is an agent endowed with a specific type of self-consciousness. Because of this, they have a certain degree of freedom in deciding which sensorimotor contingencies they shall adopt to govern their interaction with the environment. As a corollary to this, the world that such agents bring forth, and the kinds of action it affords, comes to have a distinctively moral significance. In the second part of my talk I explore the question of whether, in addition to this kind of “moral enaction” there is also something like a distinctively political form of world-enactment. That is, is there something distinctive about the manner in which institutions are enacted? Relying on the ideas of Hans-Georg Gadamer, I formulate a provisional affirmative answer to this question via the notion of tradition. On this account, tradition is a distinctive and irreducibly social form of enaction through which a world of socio-political institutions is brought forth. Even if this can be established, however, the challenge remains to see whether any normative conclusions can be drawn from it.

IAS-Research Talk by Silvia de Cesare (Université de Genève): “The idea of organic “progress” and evolutionary theory: an epistemological perspective”

The idea of organic “progress” and evolutionary theory: an epistemological perspective

Silvia de Cesare (Université de Genève)

Tuesday 28 January at 11.30 Centro Carlos Santamaria (B14)


The notion of “progress” can be defined as a directional change towards the better, implying a descriptive and an axiological element. “Organic progress” is the idea that, in the history of life, there has been a change towards organic forms which are “better” than the ancient forms. Several scholars have shown that this idea can be found in Charles Darwin’s thought and continues to provoke debate today. My presentation aims to disentangle conceptual questions about the notion of organic progress. Can we identify a precise notion of progress that would be implied by evolutionary theory? To answer this, it is necessary to make explicit how this notion is related to two concepts: adaptation and function. Following the reasoning of Darwin, Richard Dawkins and George G. Simpson, I clarify the concept of functional improvement of organic traits. I argue that there is an analogy between organic traits and technological objects, explicit in the notion of “arms race” proposed by Dawkins. Analyzing this analogy, I propose a distinction between two levels of axiology, often neglected both in organic and technological domain. I also suggest the hypothesis that the technological analogy may influence the significance that evolutionary biologists attribute to functional improvement.

IAS-Research Talk by Marc Artiga (Universitat de València): “Do Bacteria Really Talk to Each Other?”

Do Bacteria Really Talk to Each Other?

Marc Artiga (Universitat de València)

Tuesday January 14 at  at 11:30 (Centro Carlos Santamaria, B14)


In the last two decades, there has been a growing interest in bacteria and other microorganisms. This research has provided interested insights into the nature of life (Parke, 2013), cooperation (Lyon, 2007), individuality (Clarke, 2016), species (Franklin, 2007) and other issues in philosophy of science (O’Malley, 2014). In this talk, I will focus on the capacity of some bacteria to produce molecules that are usually classified as ‘signals’ and I would like to defend two claims. First of all, I will argue that in this context expressions such as ‘signalling’ should be taken at face value and that certain interactions between bacteria actually qualify as genuine forms of communication. The second goal is to use this case study to revise our general theories of signalling. In particular, I will argue that there are some aspects of bacterial signalling that do not fit the standard model; some features that usually included in the definition of communication are probably not necessary (e.g. response flexibility) and others that are not included are crucial (e.g. being a minimal cause). Finally, I will discuss the relationship between my proposal and other accounts, such as the ‘influence’ approach and the Organizational Approach to Biological Communication (Frick, Bich and Moreno, 2019).

IAS-Research Talk by Matthew Egbert (University of Auckland): Autonomous & Self-Sensitive Organisms, Behaviours and Ecological Systems

Date and time: October 15, Tuesday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Matthew Egbert (University of Auckland)

Title: Autonomous & Self-Sensitive Organisms, Behaviours and Ecological Systems

Abstract. The enactive concept of autonomy refers to a precarious, “operationally closed” network of interdependent components, where each constitutive component both depends upon and enables other components. Originally formulated as a description of the basic organization of living systems, the idea has been applied in a variety of domains.

In this talk, I will touch on three of these domains. First I will briefly review previous work that shows how autonomous biological individuals (such as bacterial cells) can respond to indicators of their own viability.

I will then present some recent investigations of autonomous sensorimotor dynamics, and highlight an open challenge concerning how autonomous patterns of sensorimotor behaviour might similarly adapt to their own viability.

Finally, I will consider autonomy in the context of ecological systems, and how these systems might be able to respond adaptively to their own viability. This final section of the talk outlines some very early-stage research I am engaged in that relates to Lovelock’s Gaia theory.

Ias-Research Talk by Neda Maki (University of Toronto): “Autism in the Canadian Arctic”

Date and time: September 27, Friday, 11:30 a.m.

Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14.

Speaker: Neda Maki (University of Toronto)

Title: Autism in the Canadian Arctic


Limited data are available on how Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects Inuit families living in remote Arctic communities in Nunavut (NU). In Canada, 1 in 66 children is diagnosed with ASD. A neurodevelopmental condition, ASD is characterized by impediments in communication and social interaction. A significant primary health concern due to its life-altering impact on families and the high cost to society of providing supportive ASD services. While there are robust autism programs available in some Canadian jurisdictions, no specific programs exist in NU. Nunavummiut (inhabitants of Nunavut) living in remote communities must travel thousands of kilometers to southern hospitals (Ottawa, Edmonton, and Winnipeg) to receive pediatric assessment, therapies (physio, occupational, speech, and behaviour), and counselling. Emerging from concerns of Nunavummiut families, the proposed study aims to 1. gather family, education, and health service provider perspectives to outline the day to day challenges and obstacles faced by care providers for children with autistic behaviours in remote communities of NU; and 2. Support the development of ASD services and program objectives that reflect Inuit specific frameworks of child development, family and community support. By embracing Inuit methodology of Piliriqatigiinniq (working together for the common good), this study is a timely engagement that responds to Qikiqtani Truth Commission’s Call for immediate government action to provide people of NU equitable and accessible programs and services at a local-level. Building on community partnerships consistent with Inuit knowledge production and self-determination this study will truly service the needs of Nunavummiut by understanding what strategies and health services (if any) Inuit seek and value when caring for children who display ASD behaviours.