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The kind of philosophy that I do is continuous with science. It examines the ways that scientists interact with the world and considers whether their representations of it (e.g. models and theories) are justified. Often those representations are called into question at the forefront of science. I therefore find it profitable to collaborate with scientists in my work. For the past few years I have been meeting regularly with a group of scientists from the University of Guelph.  Our activities, and the related work that I have pursued independently, are described below.

genome ecology

This project investigates a new way of thinking about DNA. Some scientists propose that genomes can be profitably viewed as mini-ecosystems, with genetic “species” inhabiting chromosomal environments. My work looks at the theoretical commitments of this suggestion and attempts to assess its merit. To this end, my collaborators and I have developed a general definition of ecology that enables us to determine when an ecological explanation is called for. This framework applies just as easily to traditional ecosystems and communities as it does to genomes.


function concepts in genomics

On what grounds can genetic elements legitimately be identified as functional? This question has attracted considerable attention with ENCODE’s recent pronouncement that over 80% of the human genome has a "biochemical function” – a claim that purportedly overturns received ideas about the prevalence of junk DNA. Our work shows that this claim rests on an equivocation between two function concepts, and discusses how each concept should apply to various types of genetic element.

emotion, culture and neuroscience

One aspect of this research critically examines the claim, popularized by neurobiologist Antonio Damasio in his book Descartes’ Error, that good practical judgment is guided by emotion. In an article published in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science my former grad student and I debunk this idea. We critically examine the evidence on which it is based and defend an alternative interpretation of Damasio’s data. Our alternative model of decision making is further developed in a forthcoming paper in Emotion Review.

Another aspect of my emotion research attempts to move beyond the (rather stale) debate between biological and social constructionist theories. Currently, I am looking at the Culture of Honour hypothesis as a case study for emotional cultural evolution. This work involves, in part, a cross cultural analysis of data drawn from the Human Relations Area File.

innateness and
human nature

Everyone agrees that the nature/nurture dichotomy is a false one. Yet, there is a stubborn tendency both in everyday speech and in scientific discourse to retain these categories. For example, behaviours are often categorized as either innate or learned, or as either biological or cultural. This project investigates how and why people employ these categories, and proposes strategies for transcending them.