When functions and causes compete

Thinking and Reasoning 16 (3):233-250 (2011)
Abstract
The discounting principle states that 'the role of a given cause in producing a given effect is discounted if other plausible causes are present' (Kelley, 1972, p. 8). The principle has only been tested with cases where the two explanations are of the same kind (i.e., causal explanations). However, explanations of properties of objects, people, or events often involve functions. Zebras have stripes in order to be better camouflaged. Humans have eyebrows to keep sweat from running into their eyes. Adrenaline is secreted in order to modulate fight and flight responses. Thus, what happens when we are faced with two different kinds of explanation for the same property: one functional and one causal? People evaluated explanations of properties for natural kinds and artefacts. Functional explanations were discounted in favour of causal explanations, however this was only true for properties of artefacts. The presence of an alternative explanation for properties of natural kinds did not affect the plausibility of either kind of explanation
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