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Faculty

Dan Molter

Lecturer
801 McClung Tower
Knoxville, TN 37996-0480

Phone: 865-974-3255

Email: dmolter1@utk.edu


PhD University of Utah (2019), MA Ohio University (2011), BA Wheeling Jesuit University (2006)

My research is in scientific metaphysics, with a focus on questions of biological individuality. Questions such as “What is an organism?” are answered in context of scientific theories and models, and these latter tend to carve nature in incongruent ways. One theory or model might countenance joints between metabolically integrated individuals, another illuminates boundaries between immunologically integrated individuals, and yet another theory or model demarcates evolutionary individuals. The lines between individuals drawn by various theories and models frequently do not coincide, and insofar as the latter accurately describe biological phenomena, it follows that nature is not, as Plato implied, divided by a single set of joints - nature is instead composed of numerous crosscutting overlapping individuals. Which of these overlapping theoretically defined individuals should we count when trying to determine whether a species is endangered?
And what is a species anyway? Is it a group of organisms? Must they be similar in some way? Is a species a natural kind, with an essence? Or is it really an individual – one evolving branch on the tree of life? The assumption that species are individual units of evolution is now almost universal, but species individuality is complicated by fission and fusion problems that seem to render the concept of an evolutionary tree untenable. Indeed, the history of evolution, characterized by horizontal gene transfer and rampant hybridization, is beginning to look more like a network or a cloud than a tree.
 A primary focus of my research is evolutionary individuality in symbiotic collectives, especially those composed of plants and mycorrhizal fungi. When symbionts reproduce together as a unit, and thus form parent-offspring lineages, philosophers of biology consider them to be Darwinian individuals, but in mycorrhizal collectives, a tree and its symbiotic fungus sometimes do and sometimes do not reproduce together. I have recently argued that variable probability of collective reproduction entails varying degrees of Darwinian individuality in symbiotic collectives.

Though the current focus of my research is scientific, I began my philosophical career in a Catholic seminary, examining the weightiest questions: Does God exist? Can we prove it? Do we have souls? Are we really free? What is a person? What is the ultimate purpose of life?... These questions, which I still find fascinating, are addressed in my survey of philosophy and history of philosophy courses.

Publications

  • “Bivalent selection and graded Darwinian individuality” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (2019).
  • “On Mycorrhizal Individuality” Biology and Philosophy (2019).
  • “Species in the Age of Discordance: Meeting Report and Introduction” Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology (co-authored with Matt Haber) (2019).
  • “On Mushroom Individuality” Philosophy of Science (2017).
  • “Chance in the Modern Synthesis” Chance in Evolution. Grant Ramsey and Charles Pence (Eds.) Chicago University Press (coauthored with Anya Plutynski, Blake Vernon, and Lucas Matthews) (2016).
  • “The Occurrence, Cultivation, and Chemistry of Psilocybe ovoideocystidiata, a new Bluing Species (Agaricales) from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia” Ethnomycological Journals: Sacred Mushroom Studies. (Coauthored with John Allen, Jochen Gartz, and Sihanonth Prakitsin) (2009).

Presentations

  • “Materially-continuous genidentity: a synthesis of substance and process ontology” International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology, Oslo, Norway (2019).
  • “On Mycorrhizal Individuality” Philosophy of Science Association Biennial Meeting, Seattle, WA (2018).
  • “Is the Humongous Fungus really the world’s largest organism?”(poster). Philosophy of Science Association Biennial Meeting, Seattle, WA (coauthored with Bryn Dentinger PhD Biology) (2018).
  • “Individual Essence and Species Form: a lesson from polymorphic rust fungi” International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology, University of São Paulo, (2017).
  • “Population Pluralism and Multispecies Units of Evolution” Species in the Age of Discordance, University of Utah, (2017).
  • “On Mushroom Individuality” Philosophy of Science Association Biennial Meeting, Atlanta, GA, (2016).
  • “Immunological Individuation and Units of Selection” International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology, Université de Montréal, (2015).
  • “Species Individuality and Moral Consideration for Future Generations in Gauthier’s Contractarianism” Intermountain Philosophy Conference, University of Idaho, (2015).
  • “Defining the Reference Class: Evolutionarily Significant Individuals in Evolutionarily Relevant Situations” Intermountain Philosophy Conference, Utah State University, (2014).
  • Commentary “Intermountain West Student Philosophy Conference” University of Utah, (2014, 2015, 2016, 2017).
  • Comments on Roberta Millstein’s, “Thinking about populations and races in time” American Philosophical Association Pacific Division, Vancouver, BC, (2015).
  • “The Species Problem” Ohio Mushroom Society, Ohio University, (2010).
  • Philosophy of Biology
  • Philosophy of Sex and Gender
  • Environmental Ethics
  • Classical & Medieval Philosophy
  • Reasoning and Rational Decision Making
  • Principles of Reasoning
  • Professional Responsibility
  • Intro to Ethical Dilemmas
  • Intro to Ethical Theory
  • Survey of Philosophy
  • Pandemics and People (cotaught w/ instructors from the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences)

I’m an avid naturalist and photographer, with over 8000 specimen images published in various venues. Several hundred are featured in Wikipedia articles.

I’m a member of the Philosophy of Science Association and the International Society for the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology.

I’m a US Navy veteran and bone marrow donor.

I have served as Ethics Bowl judge, both at the college and high school levels.


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