Assigning biological functions: Making sense of causal chains

Synthese 161 (2):203 - 218 (2008)
Abstract
A meaningful distinction can be made between functions and mere effects in biological systems without resorting to teleological arguments: (i) biological systems must cope with a multitude of problems or they will cease to exist; (ii) the solutions to these problems invariably depend on circular causal chains (“feedback loops”); and (iii) biological functions are attributes of elements in biological systems that have an effect which, by contributing to the correcting behavior of a feedback control system, assists in solving a biological problem. The analysis is applied to several biological systems. The proposed solution is discussed primarily in its relation to two popular approaches to the concept of biological function, i.e., the “causal role accounts” and the “selected effect accounts”.
Keywords Biological function  Causal chains  Teleology
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References found in this work BETA
Robert C. Cummins (1975). Functional Analysis. Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.
Paul E. Griffiths (1993). Functional Analysis and Proper Functions. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44 (3):409-422.
Philip Kitcher (1993). Function and Design. Midwest Studies in Philosophy 18 (1):379-397.

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Citations of this work BETA
Daniel J. Nicholson (2012). The Concept of Mechanism in Biology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 43 (1):152-163.
Bruce Wilson (2013). Metaphysics and Medical Education: Taking Holism Seriously. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice 19 (3):478-484.
Daniel J. Nicholson (2013). Organisms ≠ Machines. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):669-678.
Sune Holm (2013). Organism and Artifact: Proper Functions in Paley Organisms. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):706-713.
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