University of Pittsburgh
Primary Faculty

Sandra Mitchell

Professor; Secondary Faculty, Department of Philosophy


1017 CL
Web site
My research is on epistemological and metaphysical issues in the philosophy of science. My interests have centered on scientific explanations of complex behavior, and how we might best represent multi-level, multi-component complex systems. I have published articles on functional explanation, units of selection in evolutionary biology, sociobiology, biological complexity and self-organization, and scientific laws. Current interests include emergence, the methodological consequences of biological robustness and problems in representing deep uncertainty for policy decisions.


PhD, history and philosophy of science, University of Pittsburgh, 1987

MSc (with a Mark of Distinction), logic, philosophy, and scientific method; London School of Economics, 1975

BA (with honors), philosophy, Pitzer College, Claremont, California, 1973

Selected Courses Taught

Seminar: Recent Topics in Philosophy of Science: Emergence

Seminar: Law of Nature

Seminar: Representation, Perspectives, and Pluralism

Morality and Medicine

Philosophy of Biology

Selected/Recent Publications


Unsimple Truths: Science, Complexity and Policy, University of Chicago Press, 2009 (A revised version of Komplexitaeten: Warum Wir Erst Anfangen Die Welt Zu Verstehen, 2008, Suhrkamp Verlag).

Biological Complexity and Integrative Pluralism, Cambridge University Press 2003.

Ceteris Parisbus Laws, edited by John Earman, Clark Glymour, and Sandra Mitchell, Erkenntnis, 2002.


“Why after 50 Years are Protein X-ray Crystallographers Still in Business?” with Angela M. Gronenborn, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, forthcoming

“Multilevel Research Strategies and Biological Systems”, with Maureen A. O’Malley, Ingo Brigandt, Alan C. Love, John W. Crawford, Jack A. Gilbert, Rob Knight, and Forest Rohwer, Philosophy of Science, pp. 811-828, 2014

“Modes of Explanation: Complex Phenomena”, in M. Lissack and A. Graber (eds.) Modes of Explanation: Affordances for Action and Prediction, Palgrave MacMillan, 2014

"Emergence: logical, functional and dynamical" Synthese, 2010.

"Complexity and Explanation in the Social Sciences" in C. Mantzavinos (ed.) Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Cambridge University Press 2009.

"Exporting Causal Knowledge in Evolutionary and Developmental Biology," Philosophy of Science, December 2008.

Professional Memberships/Offices

Philosophy of Science Association, President-elect, 2015-2017

Philosophy of Science Association, Founding co-director, Joint Caucus for Socially Engaged Philosophers and Historians of Science (JCSEPHS): 2013-2014

Philosophy of Science Association, Governing Board Member: 2007-2011

International Society for History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology Governing Council, 2005-09

American Association for the Advancement of Science, Scientific Program Committee for Annual Meetings: 2012-2018

American Association for the Advancement of Science, Section L: History and Philosphy of Science, Member at Large, 2011-2015

Editorial Board, Philosophy of Science

Instant HPS: co-developer (with Edouard Machery and Haixin Dang) of video “Is Race Real”