Alexander Rosenberg

Alexander Rosenberg (born August 31 1946[1]) is an American philosopher, and the R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy at Duke University who now publishes as Alex Rosenberg.


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, and a metaphysical 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 was 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.

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 genetic 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 2007–08 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 apologist William Lane Craig on the question 'Is Faith in God Reasonable?' during which some of the arguments of the book were discussed.[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 1930s 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] The Girl From Krakow has been translated into Italian, Hungarian, Polish and Hebrew.

Autumn in Oxford

In 2016 Rosenberg's second novel, Autumn in Oxford, appeared, also published by Lake Union Publishing. An afterword identifies the large number of real persons—academics, civil rights advocates, military officers, politicians and intelligence agents from the 1940s and '50s who figure in the narrative.

How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of our Addiction to Stories

In 2018 Rosenberg published How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of our Addiction to Stories This work develops the eliminative materialism of The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, applying it to the role ‘the theory of mind’ plays in history and other forms of story telling. Rosenberg argues that the work of Nobel Prize winners, Eric Kandel, John O'Keefe and May-Britt Moser along with Edvard Moser reveals that the ‘‘theory of mind‘‘ employed in every day life and narrative history has no basis in the organization of the brain. Evidence from evolutionary anthropology, child psychology, medical diagnosis and neural imaging reveals it is an innate or almost innate tool that arose in Hominini evolution to foster collaboration among small numbers of individuals in immediate contact over the near future, but whose predictive weakness beyond this domain reveals its explanatory emptiness.[23]


  • Microeconomic Laws: A Philosophical Analysis (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1976)
  • Sociobiology and the Preemption of Social Science (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980; Basil Blackwell, 1981)
  • Hume and the Problem of Causation (Oxford University Press, 1981) (with T.L. Beauchamp)
  • The Structure of Biological Science (Cambridge University Press, 1985)
  • Philosophy of Social Science (Clarendon Press, Oxford and Westview Press, 1988, fifth Edition, 2015)
  • Economics: Mathematical Politics or Science of Diminishing Returns? (University of Chicago Press, 1992)
  • Instrumental Biology, or the Disunity of Science (University of Chicago Press, 1994)
  • Darwinism in Philosophy, Social Science and Policy (Cambridge University Press, 2000)
  • Philosophy of Science: A Contemporary Approach (Routledge, 2000, third edition 2011), translations in Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese and Turkish.
  • Darwinian Reductionism or How to Stop Worrying and Love Molecular Biology (University of Chicago Press, 2006)
  • The Philosophy of Biology: A Contemporary Introduction (Routledge, 2007) (with Daniel McShea)
  • Philosophy of Biology: An Anthology (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) (with Robert Arp)
  • The Atheist's Guide to Reality (W. W. Norton & Company, 2011)
  • The Girl From Krakow (Lake Union, 2015)
  • Autumn in Oxford (Lake Union, 2016)
  • The Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Social Science (Routledge, 2017) (with Lee McIntyre)
  • How History Gets Things Wrong: The Neuroscience of Our Addiction to Stories (MIT Press, 2018)

See also


  1. "Rosenberg, Alexander 1946- |". Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  2. Rosenberg, Alex. "C.V." (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on October 2, 2013. Retrieved September 8, 2013.
  3. Rosenberg, Alex (September 17, 2011). "Why I Am a Naturalist". The New York Times.
  4. Rosenberg, Alex (November 6, 2011). "Bodies in Motion: An Exchange". The 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. Hands, Douglas W. (1984). "What Economics Is Not: An Economist's Response to Rosenberg". Philosophy of Science. 51 (3): 495–503. doi:10.1086/289196.
  13. including Hausman, Daniel M. (1989). "Economic Methodology in a Nutshell". Journal of Economic Perspectives. 3 (2): 115–127. doi:10.1257/jep.3.2.115.
  14. Fracchia, Joseph; Lewontin, R. C. (1999). "Does Culture Evolve?". History and Theory. 38 (4): 52–78. doi:10.1111/0018-2656.00104.
  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? | Reasonable Faith". Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  18. Rosenberg, Alex (September 17, 2011). "Why I Am a Naturalist". The New York Times.
  19. Rosenberg, Alex (November 6, 2011). "Bodies in Motion: An Exchange". The New York Times.
  20. Rosenberg, Alex (July 13, 2015). "Can Moral Disputes be Resolved". The New York Times.
  21. Rosenberg, Alex (July 18, 2016). "Why You Don't Know Your Own Mind". The New York Times. ”The New York Times”.
  22. Ognian Georgiev (August 8, 2015). "Alex Rosenberg: The Girl from Krakow is based on people who survived the war", Land of Books.
  23. " Samira Shackle (October 19, 2018)
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