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From the “Baldwin Effect” to Genes of Small Effect: Celebrating the Work of David Depew

Event Details

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) History of Genomics Program will host a one-day conference, From the “Baldwin Effect” to Genes of Small Effect: Celebrating the Work of David Depew.

David Depew, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at University of Iowa, was among the first philosophers and historians of genetics to also address some of the fundamental legacies of Aristotle in modern biology. Depew’s work addresses some of the foundational questions that have emerged out of the evolutionary synthesis, affirming that philosophy of biology without the history of biology cannot address fundamental questions about the natural world. Depew’s work underscores the political and social ramifications of biological knowledge, while also affirming that developments in philosophical vocabulary continually inform discussions of biology and evolution.

Eight internationally recognized scholars will draw from themes in Depew’s work across several areas of the history and philosophy of biology, including:

  • the legacy of Aristotle’s science in the history of evolutionary theory
  • the emergence of biology as an inquiry and its connections with early modern systems of thought
  • the evolutionary synthesis (and its limits)
  • the philosophical presuppositions of evolutionary theory
  • the political and social ramifications of biological theory.

The History of Genomics Program collects, organizes and makes accessible historic materials related to the field of genomics and NHGRI. By bringing together historians and philosophers of biology, the conference will help to increase the understanding of genomics, its history and its philosophical and ethical implications in the scholarly community and among the wider public.

We hope you will join us for an exciting day.


View all videos on YouTube (Playlist)


Video for each speaker presentation or Q&A session are hyperlinked in the agenda below.
All times are in Eastern Time (ET).

Christopher R. Donohue
Christopher R. Donohue, Ph.D.
Historian, Office of Communications

Christopher Donohue is a historian of the National Human Genome Research Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health in the United States. He has edited or co-edited two journal collections since 2018. Two others, on Vitalism and the Contemporary Life Sciences with Charles Wolfe (for Springer Nature) and Perspectives on the Human Genome Project and Genomics with Alan Love (for Minnesota Studies in Philosophy of Science) are under review. A further volume for Patterns of Prejudice on human genetics and eugenics in Eastern Europe is in preparation with Victoria Shmidt and Christian Promitzer. He is completing a book under contract for Central European University Press on social Darwinism and eugenics in the 20th century.

David Depew
David J. Depew, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, University of Iowa

David J. Depew did graduate work in philosophy at the University of Chicago, the New School for Social Research, and the University of California at San Diego, where he received his Ph.D. in 1976. Retired since 2011, he is Professor Emeritus of Communication Studies and the Project on the Rhetoric Inquiry (POROI) at the University of Iowa where he worked on the rhetoric of Darwinism and its implications for human affairs, as well as its history and philosophical commitments. Previously, he was Professor of Philosophy at California State University, Fullerton, where  he co-caught philosophy of biology with Bruce H. Weber. He has published papers on Aristotle’s biological theorizing and its bearing on his political theory; on comparisons between Aristotle’s and Darwin’s biological theories; and, often with Weber, on the history of the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis and current challenges its empirical authority. With John P. Jackson, Jr. he has written on 20th century Darwinism and race. He is co-author with Weber of Darwinism Evolving: Systems Dynamics and the Genealogy of Natural Selection (1995); with Marjorie Grene of Philosophy of Biology: An Episodic History (2004); and with Jackson of Darwinism, Democracy and Race: American Anthropology and Evolutionary Biology in the Twentieth Century (2017). He has edited or co-edited a number of collected on these and related themes.  

Charles Wolfe
Charles T. Wolfe, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Philosophy, Université de Toulouse-2 Jean-Jaurès

Charles T. Wolfe is a professor in the Department of Philosophy, Université de Toulouse-2 Jean-Jaurès and an Associate Member of the Sarton Centre for History of Science, Ghent University. He works primarily in history and philosophy of the early modern life sciences, with a particular interest in materialism and vitalism. He is the author of Materialism: A Historico-Philosophical Introduction (2016), La philosophie de la biologie: une histoire du vitalisme (2019) and Lire le matérialisme (2020), and has edited or coedited volumes on monsters, brains, empiricism, biology and vitalism, including currently (w. D. Jalobeanu) the Encyclopedia of Early Modern Philosophy and the Sciences and (w. J. Symons) The History and Philosophy of Materialism. He is co-editor of the book series History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences (Springer).

Read Dr. Wolfe's available papers

Phillip Sloan
Phillip Sloan, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, Program of Liberal Studies and Graduate Program in History and Philosophy of Science, University of Notre Dame

Phillip Sloan is Professor Emeritus in the Program of Liberal Studies and the Graduate Program in History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Notre Dame.

Originally trained in biology and chemistry with a specialization in evolutionary biology in the deep sea, his professional career (Ph.D. Philosophy, 1970, UCSD) has been devoted to the history and philosophy of life science with publications on the history of evolutionary theory, Enlightenment natural history, and recent genetics and molecular biology. He is a Fellow and past President of Section L of the AAAS, and a Fellow of the Reilly Center for Science, Technology and Values at Notre Dame. Sloan’s most recent books include Creating a Biophysics of Life: The Three-Man Paper and Early Molecular Biology (Chicago, 2012), and he is main editor and contributor to Darwin in the Twenty-First Century (UND Press, 2015).

Philippe Huneman
Philippe Huneman, Ph.D.
Director of Research, Institut d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques (CNRS / Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne)

First trained in mathematics and then in philosophy, Philippe Huneman is Director of research at the Institut d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques (CNRS / Paris I Sorbonne). After having studied the constitution of the concept of organism in modern biology in relation with Kant (Métaphysique et biologie, 2008), he turned to the philosophy of evolutionary biology and ecology. Some edited books: From groups to individuals, with F. Bouchard (MIT Press 2013); Functions (“Synthese Library”, 2013); a coedited Handbook of evolutionary thinking in the sciences (2015); Challenging the Modern Synthesis (with D. Walsh , Oxford UP, 2017). He wrote on the relationships between natural selection and causation, on the roles of organism in evolution, on the computational conception of emergence in general, on the uses of ‘structural’ and ‘typological’ explanations in ecology and bioology, and he will publish Why? (Stanford UP, 2021) and a book on the philosophy of biological death (Palgrave 2021).

Betty Smocovitis
Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis, Ph.D.
Professor, History of Science, Departments of Biology and History, University of Florida

Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis is professor in the History of Science in the Department of Biology and in the Department of History at the University of Florida. Her interests include the history, philosophy and sociology of the modern biological sciences, and the history of migration, ethnicity and race in the United States with special focus on the history of modern evolutionary biology, botany, genetics, systematics and anthropology. She has written extensively on the history of the evolutionary synthesis and is the author of Unifying Biology: The Evolutionary Synthesis and Evolutionary Biology (Princeton University Press, 1996) along with articles, chapters, reviews and other publications. 

Isabel Gabel
Isabel Gabel, Ph.D.
ELSI Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania

Isabel Gabel is a historian of science, medicine, and political thought. She is currently an ELSI Postdoctoral Fellow in the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy. On August 1, 2021, she will begin a position as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Stevanovich Institute on the Formation of Knowledge at the University of Chicago. Isabel’s work has appeared in journals including History of the Human Sciences, Revue d’histoire des sciences and AMA Journal of Ethics

John Jackson
John P. Jackson, Ph.D.
Professor, James Madison College, Michigan State University

John P. Jackson, Jr. is a professor in the James Madison College of Public Affairs at Michigan State University. He specializes in the history, philosophy and rhetoric of the scientific study of race. His work has appeared in IsisPhilosophy of ScienceRhetoric Society Quarterly, and other journals. He is the author or editor of six books, the most recent of which is Darwinism, Democracy and Race (Routledge, 2017), co-written with David Depew. 

Last updated: August 4, 2021