Gillian Abernathy Barker


Assistant Professor

Department of Philosophy

Research Area:
Philosophy of Science
Philosophy of Biology

Tel: (519) 661-2111 x87747

Fax: (519) 661-3922

Gillian Barker is a philosopher with interests shaped by her interdisciplinary training in the history, philosophy and social studies of science. Gillian’s dissertation research investigated how scientists move from data about particular instances to knowledge about general patterns in the world, looking at the use of idealized models, analogies and metaphors in achieving this transition. She continues to work on questions about the origin and role of the conceptual models that shape scientific thought, especially in biology. She has written on the implications of naturalism—thinking scientifically about philosophical issues—for our understanding of functions, goals, purposes and meanings, and for our conceptions of ‘rightness’ and ‘wrongness’ both in ethics and in the broader sense. Her current work focuses on how organisms actively control aspects of their own environments, including other organisms, and what this implies for our understanding of their evolution and behavior. Gillian is also interested in questions about the social, political and economic context of scientific work, and about systematic biases in science.

Dr. Barker has central research interests in both philosophy of science and philosophy of biology. In philosophy of science, her work focuses on the means by which general empirical beliefs are acquired and evaluated; the nature of scientific understanding; the status of modal, normative and intentional relations; and the role of value in science.

In philosophy of biology, she is especially interested in issues of teleology, organization, control and agency, and their implications for biological understanding and explanation. Her current research projects include work on the relation between concepts of function in biology and technology; the evolutionary implications of the structure of systems of biological regulation; and conceptual issues concerning organism-environment interaction. She also has interests in the implications of ideas developed in philosophy of science and philosophy of biology for thinking about environmental issues and for the interaction between science and traditional knowledge systems.


Doctoral Thesis:

Abstraction, Analogy and Induction: Toward a General Account of Ampliative Inference


Barker, G.A.: “Biological Levers and Extended Adaptationism.” Biology and Philosophy 23.1 (2008): 1-25.

Barker, G.A., Derr, P., and Thompson, N.S.: “The Perils of Confusing Nesting with Chaining in Psychological Explanations,” Behavior and Philosophy 32.2 (2004): 293-303.

Barker, G.A: “Models of Biological Change: Implications of Three Recent Cases of ‘Lamarckian’ Change.” Perspectives in Ethology 10. Ed. P.P.G. Bateson, P.H. Klopfer and N.S. Thompson. New York: Plenum Press, 1993. 229-248.

Invited Talks:

“Evolution, Gender and Human Possibilities: Lessons from Ecology and Development” Wilfrid Laurier University, Department of Philosophy, 2010.

Keynote Address at Diotima Graduate Conference, The University of Western Ontario, 2010

“Naturalism and the Organism-Artifact Analogy in the Functions Debate” UC Irvine, Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, 2008
     The University of Western Ontario, 2008

“Naturalism in Biology.”
     Kansas State University. Symposium: Naturalism in Science: Necessity or Bias? 2008.

“Towards a Unified Account of Function.”
     Simon Fraser University, Department of Philosophy, 1999.
    University of British Columbia, Department of Philosophy, 1999.

“Scientific Relativism and Objectivism: The Debate in Context.”
     Northwestern University, Department of Philosophy, 1998.

“What Analogies and Ideal Models Can Tell Us about Induction.”
     Indiana University, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, 1997.

“Deriving an ‘Is’ from an ‘Ought’: Moral Issues in the Debate over Cognitive Relativism.”
     Indiana University, Department of History and Philosophy of Science, 1996.

“Abstraction, Analogy and Induction.”
    Cornell University, Department of Science & Technology Studies, 1994.

Conference Presentations:

“Altruism and Biological Leverage”
     International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology, 2011.

“The Return of the Organism:The Role and Fate of some Romantic Themes in Contemporary Evolutionary Biology”
     Romanticism and Evolution, 2011

“How Systems Fail: Function, Malfunction, Dysfunction”
     International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology, 2007.

“Feedback Structures, Causal Identity and Natural Teleology.”
     International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology, 2001.







Western University

2000-level: Nature, Ecology and the Future

2200-level: Philosophy of Biology

3000-level: Origins of Analytic Philosophy; Philosophical Issues in Modern Biology

4000-level: Seminar in Philosophy of Science: Naturalism in Science and Philosophy

Graduate: Evolutionary Approaches to Ethics and Epistemology; Teleology, Intentionality and Normativity; Survey of Philosophy of Biology

Bucknell University

Introductory: Introduction to Logic

Intermediate: Analytic Philosophy; Philosophy of Science; Philosophy of Biology; Ecology, Nature and the Future (Environmental Philosophy)

Advanced: Senior Seminar: Ethics and the Natural World; Senior Seminar: Philosophy of Mind

Simon Fraser University

Introductory: Logic and Scientific Reasoning

Advanced: Philosophy of Science

Graduate: Seminar in Philosophy of Science

Indiana University, Bloomington

Introductory: Understanding Scientific Reasoning

Advanced: Ethics and the Natural World

Graduate: Seminar in Philosophy of Biology; Selective Accounts of Design, Meaning, and Knowledge; Seminar in Philosophy of Science: Inference; Seminar in Philosophy of Biology; Independent Study: Complexity and Functional Explanation