University of Otago emblem    Department of Philosophy


photo of Maclaurin
  • PhD ANU (1998)
  • MA Victoria (1994)
  • BA (Hons) Victoria (1992)


James is a philosopher of science with particular interest in the life sciences (especially ecology and evolutionary biology) and computing and information science (particularly artificial intelligence and its impact on humanity). He is a graduate of Victoria University of Wellington and his PhD is from the Australian National University (RSSS). He has taught at the Australian National University, the University of Melbourne and Victoria University of Wellington where he was a Marsden Post Doctoral Fellow. His current appointment is split between the Department of Philosophy and my Associate Dean (Research) role in the Division of Humanities. He is a co-director of the Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Public Policy. He is also the convenor of the University’s Information Technology Advisory Committee.

He is an organiser (with Colin Gavighan and Ali Knott) of the University of Otago’s Artificial Intelligence and Society Group as well as a PI with Colin and Ali on the “Artificial Intelligence and Law in New Zealand” project funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation. His other research centres on Philosophy of Biology (where he has written on innateness, fitness, theoretical morphology, and biological diversity) and on the application of evolutionary principles in other domains such as philosophy of time, computer science and economics. He has also written on metaphilosophy. He is co-author with Kim Sterelny of What is Biodiversity? (University of Chicago Press); editor of Rationis Defensor: Essays in Honour of Colin Cheyne (2012, Springer); and co-editor of A New Science of Religion (2012, Routledge) with Greg Dawes.

For examples of my popular writing and speaking, see Applied Philosophy: Wait. What? and How to have an argument with someone you just don’t get