Philosophy of Biology
Philosophy of Mind and Action
Philosophy of Science
FERMÍN C. FULDA
Department of Philosophy, Western University
Fermín Fulda is a philosopher of science with research interests in the philosophy of biology and cognitive science on the one hand, and the philosophy of mind and action on the other. He is also interested in the philosophy of complex systems and general philosophy of science. His current work focuses on the concept of natural agency, its scientific basis and role, particularly in microbiology and intentional psychology. This research is motivated by the idea that understanding the nature of life is central to bridge the gap between inanimate matter and mind. His work on natural agency forms part of a larger project on the foundations of naturalism based on recent Neo-Aristotelian approaches across philosophy and on scientific and philosophical work on complex systems. The project seeks to develop a new methodology for the scientific integration of normative phenomena, such as purpose, reasons, norms, meaning and value. Fermín has also done work on the nature and role of natural selection in evolutionary biology.
The capacities and activities of organisms play a central role across the biological and cognitive sciences, particularly with the rise of evolutionary developmental biology and embodied cognition. Yet, their distinctive nature poses important methodological and metaphysical challenges—and opportunities—for the scientific understanding of life, action and mind. On the one hand organisms are highly, complex, self-organizing, far-from-equilibrium physical systems. As physical systems their capacities and activities are governed by causal-mechanisms and ultimately by the laws of nature, just like fluids and tornadoes. But on the other hand, organisms can act purposefully in the world in response to the relevance that their conditions of existence have for pursuing their way of life. As agents, their activities can be predicted, explained and evaluated teleologically in terms of the purpose or reason for which they were performed. Unlike inanimate entities then, organisms are the kind of beings for which things can have value and meaning such that they pursue or avoid them because they are good or bad, significant or irrelevant for attaining their goals. But what is for a physical system to act purposefully? What is the place of purpose, reason, norms, meaning and value in the causal structure of the physical world? And what distinctive role, if any, do they play in the scientific study of life and mind?
The standard mechanistic strategy of naturalization seeks to define agency in terms of the mechanical conditions that causally realize it in the physical structure of the world. This has the advantage of locating agency in the natural order of the world as described by natural science. But it does so at the expense of eliminating its distinctive teleological and normative role as agency. In contrast, the standard anti-naturalist strategy holds that agency is an irreducible teleological and normative phenomenon that cannot be analyzed in more basic mechanical terms. This has the benefit of vindicating the distinctive teleological and normative role of agency as agency. However, it does so at the cost of forfeiting its place in the natural order of the world that science describes. This dialectic, I argue, leads into a dilemma between eliminativism and primitivism about agency.
My research offers a diagnosis of the methodological and metaphysical assumptions that generate this dilemma. By appealing to scientific and philosophical work in the dynamics of complex systems I argue that the standard strategies are committed to an unnecessary stringent conception of what naturalism requires. Then I propose an ecological approach to natural agency that seeks to reconcile both its naturalistic and normative character. Roughly, the idea is that an agent is a purposive system that can respond to the conditions in which it is embedded as a network of affordances. I defend this approach using recent empirical research on Bacterial-Cognition and Cellular-Decision-Making as a test case. I also argue that this approach can reconcile the causal and teleological accounts of rational-explanation in the philosophy of action. In the future I seek to extend this account to the problem of intentionality in the philosophy of mind.
In the philosophy of evolutionary biology I have argued for a mechanistic account of Darwinian selectionist explanations (Fulda 2015). I continue to do work on the relation between natural selection, mechanism and the interpretation of evolutionary theory.
Fulda, F. A Mechanistic Framework for Darwinism or Why Fodor’s Objection Fails. Synthese 2015; 192: 163-183.
“Natural Agency: An Ecological Approach” (University of Toronto, IHPST, Committee: Denis Walsh (supervisor), William Seager, Matteo Mossio, Ronnie de Sousa).
“An Ecological Account of Natural Action” Philosophy of Scientific Practices Roundtable II May 2015 University of Toronto, IHPST, Canada.
“Bacteria Cognition and Natural Agency: Between Mechanization and intellectualization” Philosophy of Scientific Practices Roundtable: Modeling, Representing and Intervening June 2014 University of Toronto, Canada.
“Comments on John Beatty’s Darwin’s Cyclopean Architect” Launch of the book “Evolutionary Biology” edited by Paul Thompson and Denis Walsh in honor of Michael Ruse April 2014 University of Toronto, IHPST, Canada.
“An Ecological Theory of Natural Normativity” Sixth Conference of the American Association for Mexican Philosophers May 2013 Rutgers University, USA.
“Comments on Adriana Renero’s Auditory Experience and the HOT theory of Consciousness” Fifth Conference of the American Association for Mexican Philosophers May 2012 Princeton University, USA.
“Rational Explanation and Natural Purpose” Fourth Conference of the American Association for Mexican Philosophers May 2011 National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City.
“Natural Teleology and Intentionality” Annual Philosophy of Science Conference April 2011 Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik, Croatia.
“What’s wrong with Fodor’s argument against Darwinism” Consortium for the History and Philosophy of Biology June 2010 University of Montreal, Canada.
“Natural Selection, Mechanistic Explanation and the Statistical Interpretation” Biannual meeting of the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of biology July 2015 Montreal, Canada.
“An Ecological Account of Natural Action” Graduate Conference in Philosophy: Reductionist and Antireductionist Perspective on Normativity April 2015 York University, Toronto, Canada.
“Beyond Mechanism and Intellectualism: The Case of Bacterial Cognition” (Refereed Poster) Spindel Conference Alternative Models of the Mind October 2014 University of Memphis, USA.
“Bacteria Cognition and Natural Agency: Between Mechanization and intellectualization” Sixth Graduate Conference: Naturalistic Approaches to Action Mind and Value April 2014 York University, Toronto, Canada.
“Bacteria Cognition and Natural Agency: Between Mechanization and intellectualization” Second Annual Conference on Phenomenology and Naturalism April 2014 University of Johannesburg, South Africa.
“Bacteria Cognition and Natural Agency: Between Mechanization and intellectualization” Biannual meeting of the International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of biology July 2013 Montpellier, France.
“What’s wrong with Fodor’s argument against Darwinism” First Latin-American Congress of Analytic Philosophy April 2010 Peninsular Centre for Humanities and Social Science-UNAM, Yucatán, México.
“What’s wrong with Fodor’s argument against Darwinism” The Origin of Species at 150: A Celebratory Conference November 2009 University of Toronto, IHPST, Canada.
Project Title: Neo-Aristotelianism: New Foundations for Naturalism
Role: Primary Investigator
Brief Description: Quite independently a range of disciplines in contemporary philosophy have taken what we might call a “Neo-Aristotelian turn”. This turn is characterized by the tendency to identify natural phenomena with their natures, that is, an inner principle of change and rest that explains their place in the natural world. The project aims to document this generalized, if diffuse, emergent Neo-Aristotelianism. It also aims to assess the possibility of integrating these Aristotelian motifs into a comprehensive and unifying Neo-Aristotelian philosophy capable of providing a new foundation for a richer and more inclusive naturalism.
Spring, 2007, Introduction to the Philosophy of Language (undergraduate course, Lecturer), Iberoamerican University, Mexico City.
Spring, 2009, History of Evolutionary Biology II (TA, Instructor: David Smillie), University of Toronto, IHPST.
Fall, 2009, Scientific Revolutions Part I (TA, Instructor: Teri Gee), University of Toronto, IHPST.
Fall, 2011, Science and Values (TA, Instructor: Paul Thompson), University of Toronto, IHPST.
Fall, 2012, Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (TA, Instructor: Hakob Barseghyan), University of Toronto, IHPST.
Fall, 2013, Reason and Truth (TA, Instructor: William Seager), University of Toronto, Department of Philosophy.
Spring, 2014, Philosophy of Evolutionary Biology (TA, Instructor: Denis Walsh), University of Toronto, Department of Philosophy.
Fall, 2014, Philosophy of Science (TA, Instructor: Mohan Matthen), University of Toronto, Department of Philosophy.
Fall, 2015, Philosophy of Mind (TA, Instructor: Mohan Matthen), University of Toronto, Department of Philosophy.
Fall, 2015, Understanding Science and Technology (Instructor, two sections), Seneca College (Toronto).