Sex by design: a new account of the animal sexes

Biology and Philosophy 38 (2):1-17 (2023)
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What is it for an animal to be female, or male? An emerging consensus among philosophers of biology is that sex is grounded in some manner or another on anisogamy, that is, the ability to produce either large gametes (egg) or small gametes (sperm), though the exact nature of this grounding remains contentious. Here we argue for a new conception of this relation. In our view, one’s sex doesn’t depend on the kind of gamete one is capable of making, but on the kind of gamete one is designed to make, where design is understood in terms of an evolutionary or ontogenetic selection process. Specifically, we argue that what it is to be, say, male, is to have a part or process that has the (proximal or distal) biological function of producing sperm. We outline and defend our view, and sketch some implications for scientific and social problems related to sex.

Author Profiles

Maximiliana Jewett Rifkin
CUNY Graduate Center
Justin Garson
Hunter College (CUNY)


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