Dr. Marc Franklin Ereshefsky, PhD, MA, BA
Office: +1 (403) 220-3162
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B.A. Philosophy, Univ. of Calif. - Berkeley, 1981
Doctor of Philosophy Philosophy, Wisconsin - Madison, 1988
M.A. Philosophy, Wisconsin - Madison, 1984
Marc was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. He has a BA in philosophy from the University of California, Berkeley, and he earned his MA and PhD at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Elliott Sober was his PhD advisor. After graduate school, he held two post-doctorate positions. One was a post-doctorate fellowship with David Hull at Northwestern University. The other was a Mellon post-doctorate fellowship at the University of Washington, St. Louis. Marc became a professor at the University of Calgary in 1991.
Marc has been a visiting researcher at the Center for Philosophy of Science, University of Pittsburgh (1994), the Department of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge (1999), the Philosophy Department, CUNY Graduate Center (2013), and was a visiting researcher at Centre Interuniversitaire de Recherche sur la Science et la Technologie (CIRST), Université du Québec à Montréal in Fall 2016.
Marc is married and has two sons. He is an avid hiker, backpacker, and skier in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.
Areas of Research
Marc’s research has been funded by various agencies, including the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the National Science Foundation (USA), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Killam Trust, the Leverhulme Trust, the Templeton Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation. The University of Calgary has also been very supportive of Marc’s research.
Natural Kinds, Classification, and Scientific Practice
Scientists have a variety of epistemic and pragmatic reasons for classifying. Some scientists are interested in classifications of kinds that underwrite induction. Others are interested in causal kinds. Some scientists construct classifications that capture historical sequences. And other scientists aim to produce classifications of stable and reproducible kinds. Philosophers tend to posit overarching, universal accounts of natural kinds that focus on an aspect of scientific classification (for example, holding that all natural kind classifications should underwrite induction). As a result, most philosophical accounts of kinds fail to capture the variety of epistemic and pragmatic aims scientists have for classifying.
The project “Natural Kinds, Classification, and Scientific Practice” aims to refocus philosophical work on natural kinds by carefully studying successful classificatory practices in science. That requires developing an account of kinds that is sensitive to the diverse epistemic and pragmatic reasons scientists have for positing classifications. This project has two underlying motivations. One is the need for an account of kinds that helps us understand why our best classificatory practices help us control and manipulate the world. That is, an account that helps us understand why natural kind classifications in science are epistemologically fruitful. Another motivation is to offer an account of kinds that is both sensitive to the diverse reasons scientists have for positing classifications and also gives guidance in determining whether a posited category is a natural kind. We need, in other words, an account of kinds that helps us to determine where to place our ontological commitments.
Science and Values
This is a new area of research for Marc. He and Thomas Reydon have a paper published in the European Journal of Philosophy of Science on how to incorporate non-epistemic values in a theory of classification. He is currently working on a couple of other papers concerning science and values.
Standard philosophical and biological accounts of individuality take us (humans, mammals, eukaryotes) to be paradigmatic individuals or organisms. However, most of life is not like us, but is single cellular (e.g., microbes and protists). Because most of life is not like us, standard accounts of biological individuality leave out much of the organic world.
To rectify this problem Makmiller Pedroso and Marc have explored the individuality of microbes and especially microbial communities. They have focused on biofilms. Biofilms are ubiquitous –they live on our teeth (dental plague), they live in our hearts, in our guts, in ponds, on damp heater vents, and cooling towers. Many biofilms have properties that make them good candidates for individuals, particularly individuals in selection. The cells in a biofilm share genes, communicate, coordinate their activities, give rise to biofilm adaptations, and transmit those adaptations across generations of biofilms. In a series of articles Marc and Mak argue that the case of biofilms demonstrates that we need a more pluralistic account of individuality, an account that better captures the diversity of biological individuals in the world. We need an account of individuality that does not take us to be the paradigmatic individuals of the organic world.
Species and Biological Classification
Marc has worked on ‘the species problem’ (the problem of providing the right account of biological species) since the late 1980s. He has written numerous publications on species, including two books, The Poverty of the Linnaean Hierarchy and The Units of Evolution. His contributions on species and biological taxonomy include developing a variant of species pluralism and calling into question the fruitfulness of the Linnaean Hierarchy. He has also written on Darwin’s view of species. He has contributed to the debate over the ontological status of species, and more recently has argued that new essentialist approaches to species (including Homeostatic Property Cluster Theory) don’t accurately capture biological taxonomy.
A biological homologue is a trait found in two organisms, and that trait is the result of those organisms having a common ancestry. For example, wings are homologous among birds. But wings are not homologous between birds and insects –wings arose independently in birds and insects. Biological homology is a rich philosophical topic, because instances of homologues can be of the same type even though they are quite dissimilar. The study of homology brings up classic metaphysical questions concerning identity and difference.
In a series of articles Marc explores the nature of homology. In one article he suggests that studying biological work on behavioral homologies can shed light on psychological categories. In another article, he posits that ‘Homology Thinking’ is a major way that biologists understand similarity and difference among organisms. Gunter Wagner (2016), a leading biologist on homology and development, believes that homology thinking, along side population thinking and tree thinking, is a major conceptual tool that biologists use to understand life’s diversity.
What makes an entity a historical entity? What makes an explanation a historical explanation? These are vexing questions. Marc has applied the idea of path dependency to help us understand the historical nature of species and homologies. Then there are more general questions about historicity: What is historical about historical explanations, and how are historical explanations different from other types of explanations? Marc thinks that historical explanations are different from other types of explanations. He has some ideas about that difference that need further development.
Health and Disease, and Human Nature
Several years ago Marc was unhappy with how philosophers employ the notions of ‘natural’ and ‘normal’ when defining ‘health’ and ‘diseases’ and when arguing for positions in environmental ethics. He thinks there is a common error in these two areas of research. Philosophers and others assume that we can draw on biological theory to determine what is natural or normal and then use that information to solve philosophical problems. Following Elliott Sober (1980), Marc believes that biology does not tell us on what is natural or normal. He has written several papers on the topic: “Defining ‘Health’ and Disease,” “Where the Wild Things Are: Environmental Preservation and Human Nature,” and “Bridging the Gap Between Human Kinds and Biological Kinds.”
Participation in university strategic initiatives
Graduate and Post-Doc Supervision
Marc has supervised a number of MA and PhD students, as well some post-docs.
1. Adrian Currie (Lecturer at the University of Exeter)
2. Dean Rickles (Professor at the University of Sydney)
3. Frank Zender
4. Bengt Auzten (Research Associate at the University of Bristol)
Ph.D. Students Supervised
1. Ph.D., Alican Basdemir (in program)
2. Ph.D., Archie Fields III (Degree Completed November 2021)
3. Ph.D., Soohyun Ahn (Degree Completed November 2021)
4. Ph.D., Celso Neto (Degree Completed July 2020, Tenure track lecturer at Exeter University)
5. Ph.D., Sinan Sencan (Degree Completed November 2018, Deceased)
6. Ph.D., Alison Renas (Degree Completed April 2017, Tenure Track Assistant Professor,
University of Massachusetts)
7. Ph.D., Brandon Holter (Degree Completed January 2014, Lecturer, East Tennessee State University)
8. Ph.D., Makmiller Pedroso (Degree Completed April 2013, Associate Professor, Towson University)
9. Ph.D., Michael Steiner (Degree Completed September 2011, Senior Business Analyst, TC Energy)
10. Ph.D., Travis Dumsday (Degree Completed March 2010, Canada Research Chair, Concordia University of Edmonton)
11. Ph.D., Jennifer Runke (Degree Completed April 2008, Lawyer, Joss Law)
12. Ph.D., Jesse Hendrikse (Degree completed November 2005, Lecturer, Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary)
13. Ph.D., Jay Odenbaugh (Degree Completed September 2001, Professor, Lewis and Clark College)
14. Ph.D., David Baumslag (Degree Completed, May 1997)
15. Ph.D., Mohamed El Samahi (Degree Completed, June 1996)
M.A. Students Supervised
1. M.A., Chloe Stephenson (Degree Completed April 2021, working at the European Centre for
Disease Prevention and Control)
2. M.A., Michelle Pham (Degree Completed June 2012, PhD. student at University of Washington)
3. M.A., Shari Monner (Degree Completed July 2011, PhD. student at Western University)
4. M.A., Sky Coulter (Degree Completed September 2007)
5. M.A., Michael Steiner (Degree Completed June 2007, Senior Business Analyst, TC Energy)
6. M.A., Clement Loo (Degree Completed June 2006, Assistant Professor, University of Minnesota, Morris)
7. M.A., Shawna Boyle (Degree Completed August 2002)
8. M.A., Jesse Hendrikse (Degree Completed July 1998, Lecturer, Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary)
9. M.A., Barrett Wolski (Degree Completed July 1994)
Ph.D. External Examiner
1. Ph.D. Program, Philosophy, CUNY GC, Leonard Finkelman, May 2013.
2. Ph.D. Program, Philosophy, University of British Columbia, Yuichi Amitani, July 2010.
3. Ph.D. Program, Philosophy, Boston University, Gal Kober, April 2009.
4. Ph.D. Program, Philosophy, University of British Columbia, Athena Ogden, January 2002.
5. Ph.D. Program, Philosophy, York University, David Stamos, March 1996.
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