An organizational account of biological functions

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60 (4):813-841 (2009)
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Abstract

In this paper, we develop an organizational account that defines biological functions as causal relations subject to closure in living systems, interpreted as the most typical example of organizationally closed and differentiated self-maintaining systems. We argue that this account adequately grounds the teleological and normative dimensions of functions in the current organization of a system, insofar as it provides an explanation for the existence of the function bearer and, at the same time, identifies in a non-arbitrary way the norms that functions are supposed to obey. Accordingly, we suggest that the organizational account combines the etiological and dispositional perspectives in an integrated theoretical framework. IntroductionDispositional ApproachesEtiological TheoriesBiological Self-maintenance Closure, teleology, and normativityOrganizational differentiationFunctions C1: Contributing to the maintenance of the organization C2: Producing the functional trait Implications and Objections Functional versus useful Dysfunctions, side effects, and accidental contributionsProper functions and selected effectsReproductionRelation with other ‘unitarian’ approachesConclusions

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Matteo Mossio
Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique

Citations of this work

Representation in Cognitive Science.Nicholas Shea - 2018 - Oxford University Press.
The Concept of Mechanism in Biology.Daniel J. Nicholson - 2012 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (1):152-163.
A Generalized Selected Effects Theory of Function.Justin Garson - 2017 - Philosophy of Science 84 (3):523-543.

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References found in this work

Functional Analysis.Robert Cummins - 1975 - Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.
Functions.Larry Wright - 1973 - Philosophical Review 82 (2):139-168.
In Defense of Proper Functions.Ruth Garrett Millikan - 1989 - Philosophy of Science 56 (June):288-302.
Investigations.Stuart A. Kauffman - 2000 - Oxford University Press.

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