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Elliott Sober (born 6 June 1948, Baltimore) is Hans Reichenbach Professor and William F. Vilas Research Professor in the Department of Philosophy at University of Wisconsin–Madison. Sober is noted for his work in philosophy of biology and general philosophy of science.
Sober earned his Ph.D in philosophy from Harvard University under the supervision of Hilary Putnam, after doing graduate work at Cambridge University under the supervision of Mary Hesse. His work has also been strongly influenced by the biologist Richard Lewontin, and he has collaborated with David Sloan Wilson, Steven Orzack and Mike Steel, also biologists.
Sober has served as the president of both the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association and the Philosophy of Science Association. He was president of the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science (Division of Logic, Methodology, and Philosophy of Science) from 2012 until 2015. He taught for one year at Stanford University and has been a regular visiting professor at the London School of Economics.
One of Sober's main fields of research has been the subject of simplicity or parsimony in connection with theory evaluation in science. Sober also has been interested in altruism, both as the concept is used in evolutionary biology and also as it is used in connection with human psychology. His book with David Sloan Wilson, Unto Others: the Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior (1998), addresses both topics.
Sober has been a prominent critic of intelligent design. He also has written about evidence and probability, scientific realism and instrumentalism, laws of nature, the mind-body problem and naturalism.
Philosophy of biology
Sober's The Nature of Selection: Evolutionary Theory in Philosophical Focus (1984) has been instrumental in establishing the philosophy of biology as a prominent research area in philosophy. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "The Nature of Selection...marks the point at which most philosophers became aware of the philosophy of biology." In his review of the book, biologist Ernst Mayr wrote "Sober has ... given us what is perhaps the most careful and penetrating analysis of the concept of natural selection as it affects the process of evolution".
Sober's first publication on parsimony was his 1975 book, Simplicity. In it, he argued that the simplicity of a hypothesis should be understood in terms of a concept of question-relative informativeness. Sober abandoned this theory in the 1980s when he started to think about the concept of cladistic parsimony used in evolutionary biology. This led him to think of parsimony in terms of the concept of likelihood, an idea he developed in his 1988 book Reconstructing the Past: Parsimony, Evolution, and Inference. In the 1990s he started to think about the role of parsimony in model selection theory—for example, in the Akaike Information Criterion. He published a series of articles in this area with Malcolm Forster, the first of which was their 1994 paper "How to Tell When Simpler, More Unified, or Less Ad Hoc Theories Will Provide More Accurate Predictions." His most recent publication on parsimony, his 2015 book Ockham's Razors: A User's Manual, describes both the likelihood framework and the model selection frameworks as two viable "parsimony paradigms."
- Ockham’s Razors – A User’s Manual, Cambridge University Press, 2015.
- Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards, Prometheus Books, 2011.
- Evidence and Evolution, Cambridge University Press, 2008.
- (edited with Steven Orzack) Adaptationism and Optimality, Cambridge University Press, 2001.
- (with David S. Wilson) Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior, Harvard University Press, 1998; Spanish edition, Siglo Veintiouno de España Editores, 2000.
- From a Biological Point of View: Essays in Evolutionary Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 1994.
- Philosophy of Biology, Westview Press (in UK: Oxford University Press), 1993; 2nd edition, 1999; Spanish edition, Alianza, 1996; Chinese edition, 2000; Korean edition, Chul Hak Kwa Hyun Sil Sa Publishing Co., 2004.
- (with Erik Wright and Andrew Levine) Reconstructing Marxism: Essays on Explanation and the Theory of History, Verso Press, 1992; Portuguese edition, 1993.
- Core Questions in Philosophy: A Text with Readings, Macmillan, 1990; 2nd edition, Prentice Hall, 1995; 3rd edition, 2000; 4th edition, 2005; 5th edition, 2008.
- Reconstructing the Past: Parsimony, Evolution, and Inference, Bradford/MIT Press, 1988; Japanese edition, Souju Publishers, Tokyo, 1996.
- The Nature of Selection: Evolutionary Theory in Philosophical Focus, Bradford/MIT Press, 1984; 2nd edition, University of Chicago Press, 1993.
- (edited) Conceptual Issues in Evolutionary Biology: An Anthology, Bradford/MIT Press, 1984; 2nd edition 1993.
- Simplicity, Oxford University Press, 1975.
- "Elliott Sober". University of Wisconsin. Retrieved 28 September 2011.
- Pfeifer, Jessica. "2014 Hempel Award Winner Announced". www.philsci.org. Retrieved 2016-01-27.
- Elliott Sober on Darwin and Intelligent Design
- Wilson, D. S.; Sober, E. (1989-02-08). "Reviving the superorganism". Journal of Theoretical Biology. 136 (3): 337–356. doi:10.1016/s0022-5193(89)80169-9. ISSN 0022-5193. PMID 2811397.
- Sober, E.; Wilson, D. S. (2011-02-01). "Adaptation and Natural Selection revisited". Journal of Evolutionary Biology. 24 (2): 462–468. doi:10.1111/j.1420-9101.2010.02162.x. ISSN 1420-9101.
- Orzack, Steven Hecht; Sober, Elliott. "A Critical Assessment of Levins's The Strategy of Model Building in Population Biology (1966)". The Quarterly Review of Biology. 68 (4): 533–546. doi:10.1086/418301.
- Sober, Elliott; Orzack, Steven Hecht (2003-09-01). "Common Ancestry and Natural Selection". The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. 54 (3): 423–437. doi:10.1093/bjps/54.3.423. ISSN 0007-0882.
- Sober, Elliott; Steel, Mike (2014-10-01). "Time and Knowability in Evolutionary Processes". Philosophy of Science. 81 (4): 558–579. arXiv: . doi:10.1086/677954. ISSN 0031-8248.
- Sober, Elliott; Steel, Mike (2015-11-14). "Similarities as Evidence for Common Ancestry: A Likelihood Epistemology". The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science: axv052. arXiv: . doi:10.1093/bjps/axv052. ISSN 0007-0882.
- "APA Divisional Presidents and Addresses - The American Philosophical Association". www.apaonline.org. Retrieved 2016-01-25.
- Julien, Alec. "Governance History". philsci.org. Retrieved 2016-01-25.
- Sober, Elliott (2002-01-01). "Intelligent Design and Probability Reasoning". International Journal for Philosophy of Religion. 52 (2): 65–80. doi:10.1023/a:1019579220694. JSTOR 40036455.
- Mann, William (2004). The Blackwell Guide to Philosophy of Religion. Malden: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 117–147. ISBN 978-0-631-22128-9.
- Sober, Elliott (March 2007). "What Is Wrong With Intelligent Design?". The Quarterly Review of Biology. 82 (1): 3–8. doi:10.1086/511656. PMID 17354991.
- "EPSA Philosophy of Science: Amsterdam 2009 | Henk W. de Regt | Springer". www.springer.com. Retrieved 2016-01-27.
- Sober, Elliott (2002-09-01). "Instrumentalism, Parsimony, and the Akaike Framework". Philosophy of Science. 69 (S3): S112–S123. doi:10.1086/341839. ISSN 0031-8248.
- Sober, Elliott (2011-12-01). "A Priori Causal Models of Natural Selection". Australasian Journal of Philosophy. 89 (4): 571–589. doi:10.1080/00048402.2010.535006. ISSN 0004-8402.
- "link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A%253A1004519608950". Philosophical Studies. 95: 135–174. doi:10.1023/a:1004519608950.
- Kvanvig, Jonathan (2011). Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 187–221. ISBN 978-0199603220.
- Mayr, Ernst. Paleobiology, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Spring, 1986), pp. 233–239