New challenges to the selected effects account of biological function

Synthese 202 (6):1-16 (2023)
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Finding a naturalistic account of biological function is important both for making sense of the way functions are talked about in biology and medicine and for the project in the philosophy of mind of naturalising mental content via teleosemantics. The selected effects theory accounts for the proper functions of traits in terms of their selectional history, and is widely considered to be the most promising approach to naturalising biological functions. However, new challenges to the selected effects account have recently emerged. Matthewson ( 2020 ) argues that natural selection comes in degrees and that on the face of it biological function does not, suggesting that analysing the latter in terms of the former is therefore problematic. Christie et al. (forthcoming) argue that the selected effects account of function does not fit with biologically detailed accounts of actual selection processes, in that it focuses on the functions of traits of individuals rather than the frequency of traits in populations and does not generate accurate selectional explanations in cases in which there is not a uniform selective environment. This paper defends the selected effects account against these challenges, arguing that a viable response to Matthewson is that _any_ degree of selection suffices to confer proper functions, and that Christie et al. mischaracterise the aims and assumptions of the selected effects account.



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Justine Kingsbury
University of Waikato

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