Alexander Rosenberg

This article is about the American philosopher. For the Russian architect, see Aleksandr Rosenberg. For the German-American mathematician, see Alex F. T. W. Rosenberg.

Alexander Rosenberg (born 1946) is an American philosopher, and the R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy at Duke University. He is also a novelist.[1]


Rosenberg attended the City College of New York where he graduated with a B.A. in 1967. He received his Ph.D from the Johns Hopkins University in 1971. He won the Lakatos Award in 1993 and was the National Phi Beta Kappa Romanell Lecturer in 2006.[2]

Rosenberg is an atheist. He describes himself as a Scientistic naturalist.[3][4]

Research and scholarship

Rosenberg's early work focused on the philosophy of social science and especially the philosophy of economics. His doctoral dissertation, published as Microeconomic Laws in 1976, was the first treatment of the nature of economics by a contemporary philosopher of science. Over the period of the next decade he became increasingly skeptical about neoclassical economics as an empirical theory.

He later shifted to work on issues in the philosophy of science that are raised by biology. He became especially interested in the relationship between molecular biology and other parts of biology. Rosenberg introduced the concept of supervenience to the treatment of intertheoretical relations in biology, soon after Donald Davidson began to exploit Richard Hare's notion in the philosophy of psychology. Rosenberg is among the few biologists and fewer philosophers of science who reject the consensus view that combines physicalism with antireductionism (see his 2010 on-line debate with John Dupré at Philosophy TV).

Rosenberg also coauthored an influential book on David Hume with Tom Beauchamp, Hume and the Problem of Causation, arguing that Hume was not a skeptic about induction but an opponent of rationalist theories of inductive inference.

Critical discussions of Rosenberg’s work

Rosenberg’s treatment of fitness as a supervenient property which is an undefined concept in the theory of natural selection is criticized by Brandon and Beatty.[5] His original development of how the supervenience of Mendelian concepts blocks traditional derivational reduction was examined critically by C. Kenneth Waters.[6] His later account of reduction in developmental biology were criticized by Günter Wagner.[7] Elliott Sober's "Multiple realization arguments against reductionism"[8] reflects a shift towards Rosenberg's critique of anti-reductionist arguments of Putnam's and Fodor's.

But Sober has also challenged Rosenberg’s view that the principle of natural selection is the only biological law.[9]

The explanatory role of the principle of natural selection and the nature of evolutionary probabilities defended by Rosenberg were subject to counter arguments by Brandon[10] and later by Denis Walsh.[11] Rosenberg's account of the nature of drift and the role of probability in the theory of natural selection draws on significant parallels between the principle of natural selection and the second law of thermodynamics.

In the philosophy of social science, Rosenberg’s more skeptical views about microeconomics were challenged first by Wade Hands[12] and later by Daniel Hausman in several books and articles.[13] The financial crisis of 2008–09 resulted in renewed attention to Rosenberg's skeptical views about microeconomics. Biologist Richard Lewontin and historian Joseph Fracchia express skepticism about Rosenberg’s claim that functional explanations in social science require Darwinian underlying mechanisms.[14]

The Atheist's Guide to Reality

In 2011 Rosenberg published a defense of what he called "Scientism"—the claim that "the persistent questions" people ask about the nature of reality, the purpose of things, the foundations of value and morality, the way the mind works, the basis of personal identity, and the course of human history, could all be answered by the resources of science. This book was attacked on the front cover of The New Republic by Leon Wieseltier as "The worst book of the year".[15] Leon Wiseltier's claim, in turn, was critiqued as exaggeration by Philip Kitcher in the New York Times Book Review.[16] On February 1, 2013, Rosenberg debated Christian philosopher William Lane Craig over the topics discussed in The Atheist's Guide to Reality.[17]

Rosenberg has contributed articles to the New York Times Op/Ed series The Stone, on naturalism, science and the humanities, and meta-ethics, and the mind's powers to understand itself by introspection that arise from the views he advanced in The Atheist's Guide to Reality.[18][19][20][21]

The Girl From Krakow

Rosenberg’s 2015 novel, The Girl From Krakow, Lake Union Publishing, is a narrative about a young woman named Rita Feuerstahl from 1935 to 1947, mainly focusing on her struggles to survive in Nazi-occupied Poland and later in Germany, under a false identity. A secondary plot involves her lover’s experiences in France and Spain during its Civil War in the ‘30s and then in Moscow during the war. Rosenberg has acknowledged that the novel is based on the wartime experiences of people he knew. He has also admitted the incongruity of writing a narrative, given his attack on the form in The Atheist’s Guide to Reality. He has said that The Girl from Krakow began as an attempt to put some of the difficult arguments of The Atheist’s Guide to Reality into a form easier to grasp".[22]

Autumn in Oxford

In 2016 Rosenberg’s second novel appeared, Autumn in Oxford, also published by Lake Union Publishing.


See also


  3. Alexander Rosenberg (September 17, 2011). "Why I Am a Naturalist". New York Times.
  4. Alexander Rosenberg (November 6, 2011). "Bodies in Motion: An Exchange". New York Times.
  5. in “The Propensity Interpretation of 'Fitness'--No Interpretation Is No Substitute,” Philosophy of Science, Vol. 51, No. 2, 1984.
  6. in “Rosenberg's rebellion”, Biology and Philosophy, 1990.
  7. “How Molecular is Molecular Developmental Biology? A Reply to Alex Rosenberg's Reductionism Redux: Computing the Embryo”, Biology and Philosophy, 2001.
  8. Philosophy of Science, vol. 66, 1999.
  9. in “Two Outbreaks of Lawlessness in Recent Philosophy of Biology,” Philosophy of Science, Vol. 64, No. 4, 1996 as did Kim Sterelny and Paul E. Griffiths, Sex and Death.
  10. in “The Indeterministic Character of Evolutionary Theory: No "No Hidden Variables Proof" but No Room for Determinism Either” Philosophy of Science, Vol. 63, No. 3 1996.
  11. “The Pomp of Superfluous Causes: The Interpretation of Evolutionary Theory”, Philosophy of Science Vol. 74, No. 3, 2007.
  12. in “What Economics Is Not: An Economist's Response to Rosenberg,” Philosophy of Science, Vol. 51, No. 3 1984.
  13. including “Economic Methodology in a Nutshell," The Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 3, No. 2 1989.
  14. “Does Culture Evolve?” History and Theory 38 (4),1999.
  15. Leon Wieseltier. "Leon Wieseltier: The Answers – The New Republic". The New Republic.
  16. Kitcher, Philip (March 23, 2012). "Alex Rosenberg's 'The Atheist's Guide to Reality'". The New York Times.
  17. "Is Faith in God Reasonable?". Symposia Christi. Retrieved January 18, 2014.
  18. Alexander Rosenberg (September 17, 2011). "Why I Am a Naturalist". New York Times.
  19. Alexander Rosenberg (November 6, 2011). "Bodies in Motion: An Exchange". New York Times.
  20. Alexander Rosenberg (July 13, 2015). "Can Moral Disputes be Resolved". New York Times.
  21. Alexander Rosenberg (July 18, 2016). ”New York Times Missing or empty |title= (help)
  22. Ognian Georgiev (August 8, 2015). "Alex Rosenberg: The Girl from Krakow is based on people who survived the war", Land of Books.

External links

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