My main research is currently organized around three areas.

  1. Philosophy of Biology

My main interest in philosophy of biology is uncovering what fundamental evolutionary tells us about the shape of evolutionary history. Are we heading in any direction, and if we are is this direction itself just an accident of history? Specific topics I have worked on include contingency, natural selection, the environment, and evolutionary trends.

Dissertation

  • Desmond, H. (2016). Life’s Plot: Contingency and Symmetries in Evolutionary History. (pdf)

Papers:

  • Desmond, H. (2018). Natural Selection, Plasticity, and the Rationale for Largest-Scale Trends. Studies in Philosophy and History of Science C. DOI: 10.1016/j.shpsc.2018.04.002 (pdf)
  • Desmond, H. (2017). Natural Selection: Deriving Causality from Stable Equilibrium. Erkenntnis. DOI: 10.1007/s10670-017-9889-z. (pdf)
  • Desmond, H. (2016). Symmetry Breaking and the Emergence of Path-Dependence. Synthese: an International Journal for Epistemology, Methodology and Philosophy of Science. DOI: 10.1007/s11229-016-1130-0. (pdf)
  • Delimiting the Selective Environment (with Grant Ramsey) (pdf).

Book:

  • The Philosophy of Evolutionary History: Narratives, Causes, and Symmetries. (in preparation)

2.  Human Evolution and Ethics

How are we part of biological evolution? And how is biological evolution part of us? The first question, grounded on my work in evolutionary history, has led me to inquire about the nature of human success. Many anthropologists share the intuition that we are remarkably successful, but is this anthropocentric? What does ‘success’ even mean?

The second question has led me to two projects in ethics. I am currently exploring a new skeptical stance on moral realism based on evolutionary considerations. I am also interested in human enhancement, and understanding with more precision how this has played and continues to play a role in human evolution.

Edited book:

  • Human Success: Evolutionary Origins and Ethical Implications (with Grant Ramsey; under review)

Papers:

  • Undermining Rational Moral Realism: The View from Cultural Evolutionary Theory (draft)
  • Can Human Enhancement Control Human Evolution? (draft)

3.  General Philosophy of Science

Inspired by my work in philosophy of biology, I have been searching to draw out the broader implications of the complexity and historicity of systems for how we think about causation and explanation. This has led me to emphasise the role of narrativity and pragmatics in scientific explanation, and to seek (partial) impossibility results for received views such as the interventionist model of causal explanation, or D-N explanation.

I am also interested in how we should conceive of science as a profession, and how it is distinguished from other professions, especially with regard to incompetence and misconduct.

Papers:

  • Desmond, H. (2016). Symmetry Breaking and the Emergence of Path-Dependence. Synthese: an International Journal for Epistemology, Methodology and Philosophy of Science. DOI: 10.1007/s11229-016-1130-0. (pdf)
  • The Limits of Ideal Interventions in Nonlinear Feedback Systems (pdf).
  • Shades of Grey: Granularity, Pragmatics, and Non-Causal Explanation (pdf).
  • Distinguishing between Incompetent Research and Research Misconduct: The Methodology Framework (in preparation with Kris Dierickx)
  • Kantian Projectivism and Purposiveness (with Philippe Huneman)
  • Complexity and the Limits of Exceptionless Generalization (in preparation)
  • How Causation Emerges in Optimization Phenomena (in preparation)