My current research is focused on the intertwined histories of biology and philosophy in the late modern period (19th-20th century). It’s generally recognized that biology and philosophy have influenced one another in this period, as evidenced by central commitments of the schools of American pragmatism, vitalism, life-philosophy, and German philosophical anthropology, on the one hand; and the persistent engagement of biologists like T.H. Huxley, Ernst Haeckel, Theodosius Dobzhansky, and Richard Lewontin with the philosophical foundations and implications of biology, on the other. My research uses archival sources, bibliometrics, and close reading of print sources to go beyond generalizations and commonplaces and use the demonstrable relations between biology and philosophy to test favored philosophical theses about naturalism, the scope and limits of epistemic authority of the natural sciences, the utility and social value of philosophy, and models of interdisciplinary science and its evaluation. Since 2014 I've been supported by a number of grants and fellowships (NSF, Consortium for HSTM, the ZfL in Berlin) to pursue these topics.
Naturalism and Philosophical Anthropology
One strain of my research has focused on a (mostly German) tradition of modern thought known as “philosophische Anthropologie” (philosophical anthropology): for instance, the work of Helmuth Plessner, Arnold Gehlen, and Adolf Portmann. My work here has explored the relevance of ideas in this tradition to contemporary debates about naturalism, the ontology of living things and processes, philosophies of nature, culture, and technology, and embodiment and animality. Representative publications include a 2015 essay in IJPS, an edited collection of new essays entitled Naturalism and Philosophical Anthropology (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), and assistance with a forthcoming English translation of Helmuth Plessner's Levels of Organic Being and the Human (Fordham University Press, 2019).
Biology and Philosophy, 1800-2015
Another strain of my research has focused on the history of the philosophy of biology, mostly since 1800.
This work examines the limits of both biology and philosophy by examining how each has informed and structured the other since 1800 -- including establishment and negotiation of boundaries, contests over epistemic authority, collaborations, and conceptual and thematic borrowings. Within this work I've especially used debates about biological taxonomy (species, higher taxa) as a focus and test case. Representative publications thus far include papers in Studies C and in HOPOS; several other papers are planned or underway.