Synthese 194 (7):2501-2522 (2017)

Ema Sullivan-Bissett
University of Birmingham
Historical accounts of biological function are thought to have, as a point in their favour, their being able to accommodate malfunction. Recently, this has been brought into doubt by Paul Sheldon Davies’s argument for the claim that both selected malfunction (that of the selected functions account) and weak etiological malfunction (that of the weak etiological account), are impossible. In this paper I suggest that in light of Davies’s objection, historical accounts of biological function need to be adjusted to accommodate malfunction. I propose a historical account which places two conditions on membership of a functional kind. My claim is that it is in virtue of a trait’s meeting these conditions that it is a member of a functional kind, and can thus malfunction. I suggest that a version of my proposal can be adopted by both the selected effects and weak etiological theorists, and so conclude that such a proposal meets Davies’s objection.
Keywords Function  Malfunction  Etiology  Generic trait type  Selected functional type  Selection
Categories (categorize this paper)
Reprint years 2016, 2017
DOI 10.1007/s11229-016-1062-8
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 70,192
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Knowing One’s Own Mind.Donald Davidson - 1987 - Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association 60 (3):441-458.
In Defense of Proper Functions.Ruth Garrett Millikan - 1989 - Philosophy of Science 56 (June):288-302.

View all 25 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Biological Function and Epistemic Normativity.Ema Sullivan-Bissett - 2017 - Philosophical Explorations 20 (1):94-110.
Teleological Notions in Biology.Colinn D. Allen - 2003 - In Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford University.

View all 6 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Malfunctions.Paul Sheldon Davies - 2000 - Biology and Philosophy 15 (1):19-38.
Fitness and Function.D. M. Walsh - 1996 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 47 (4):553-574.
Biological Pathology From an Organizational Perspective.Cristian Saborido & Alvaro Moreno - 2015 - Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 36 (1):83-95.
Function, Fitness and Disposition.Sandra D. Mitchell - 1995 - Biology and Philosophy 10 (1):39-54.
"Why" Functions.Sandra Diane Mitchell - 1987 - Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh
Mechanistic Explanation in Engineering Science.Dingmar van Eck - 2015 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 5 (3):349-375.
Modality and Function: Reply to Nanay.Osamu Kiritani - 2011 - Journal of Mind and Behavior 32 (2):89-90.
Function Without Purpose.Ron Amundson & George V. Lauder - 1994 - Biology and Philosophy 9 (4):443-469.
Revisiting Recent Etiological Theories of Functions.Daniel M. Kraemer - 2014 - Biology and Philosophy 29 (5):747-759.
Function, Modality, Mental Content.Bence Nanay - 2011 - Journal of Mind and Behavior 32 (2):84-87.
Function and Modality.Osamu Kiritani - 2011 - Journal of Mind and Behavior 32 (1):1-4.


Added to PP index

Total views
69 ( #166,579 of 2,507,375 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
1 ( #416,983 of 2,507,375 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes