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About the Geofunctions Project

Biologists often talk about the functions of parts of organisms, from genes to organ systems; and the effort to understand such “biofunctions" is a central part of philosophy of biology. A more recent body of research in philosophy of ecology investigates functional claims about ecosystems and their parts, sometimes called “ecofunctions." 


The Geofunctions Project considers the idea of planetary functions: what we call “geofunctions.”  Scientists describe the Earth, and its component parts and processes, in functional terms in a variety of ways, including metaphors (such as describing polar ice as a "planetary air conditioner" or water as "the bloodstream of the biosphere") and policy-oriented concepts (such as "planetary health," "planetary boundaries," and "Nature-based solutions").


The Geofunctions Project investigates these characterizations and the work that they do. Why are these functional metaphors and concepts useful to scientists? What do they tell us about the Earth and the sciences that seek to understand it?  We suggest that recent developments in science and philosophy offer resources for sharpening and articulating the way we think about geofunctions, a project which can have valuable payoffs for both scientists and philosophers.

The Team

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Gillian Barker

Principal Investigator

University of Pittsburgh

Gillian Barker is Visiting Research Professor in the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh, and a member of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy at Western University. Dr. Barker’s research examines how the biological and social sciences deal with causal complexity, and how science can make sense of apparent normativity, intentionality, and teleology in thinking about the natural world.  Dr. Barker is author of Beyond Biofatalism: Human Nature for an Evolving World, and co-author with Philip Kitcher of Philosophy of Science: A New Introduction.


Justin Donhauser

Project Investigator

Bowling Green State University

Justin Donhauser's work tackles methodological, practical, and broadly social issues at the intersection of applied sciences and public policy and resource management in a practicable way. He specializes in the logic and philosophical foundations of big‐data and statistical modelling methods in systems ecology and climate science, and, more recently, also has numerous projects on issues in applied AI and robotics in those and other areas.


Eric Desjardins

Project Investigator

Western University

Eric Desjardins is Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department at Western University and the Associate Director of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy. He works on the normative dimensions of historical contingency and biological entanglement in various life sciences. The main goals of his research are 1) to clarify the meaning of and relation between these two notions,

2) explore and develop conceptual frameworks that can explain their relevance in various disciplines (especially experimental evolution and ecology), and 3) show how these frameworks can be used in promoting more effective and ethical decision making in an increasingly human-impacted world.

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Antoine C. Dussault

Project Investigator

Collège Lionel-Groulx

Antoine Dussault teaches philosophy at Collège Lionel-Groulx (Sainte-Thérèse, Québec). He is also codirector of the Environmental and animal ethics axis of the Centre de recherche en éthique (CRÉ), and a regular member of the Centre interuniversitaire de recherche sur la science et la technologie (CIRST).

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Jonathan Bowen

Research Assistant

Western University

Jonathan Bowen is a PhD student in the philosophy program at Western University studying under Dr. Michael Anderson. He received his MA in philosophy from Western University, and a combined BSc in psychology and computer science from the University of Victoria. He is interested in developing new ways of thinking about what psychological beings are, drawing on eclectic, often neglected historical theoretical works (principally from the American pragmatists, functionalists, and ecological psychologists).

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Brandon Long

Research Assistant

Bowling Green State University

Brandon Long is a biologist turned philosopher, delving into the philosophical implications of Earth's functions. With a Biology Masters under his belt and currently pursuing a Philosophy Masters, he explores the intricate relationship between Earth processes and functions. Brandon is also fascinated by clinical ethics, including topics like enhancement ethics, AI implementation, and democratic deliberation. His interdisciplinary approach bridges science, philosophy, and ethics, offering fresh insights into these complex domains.

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