Sandra Mitchell

  • Distinguished Professor

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.

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

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”

Education & Training

  • 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

Representative 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 Paribus 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.