A modal theory of function

Journal of Philosophy 107 (8):412-431 (2010)
The function of a trait token is usually defined in terms of some properties of other (past, present, future) tokens of the same trait type. I argue that this strategy is problematic, as trait types are (at least partly) individuated by their functional properties, which would lead to circularity. In order to avoid this problem, I suggest a way to define the function of a trait token in terms of the properties of the very same trait token. To able to allow for the possibility of malfunctioning, some of these properties need to be modal ones: a function of a trait is to do F just in case its doing F would contribute to the inclusive fitness of the organism whose trait it is. Function attributions have modal force. Finally, I explore whether and how this theory of biological function could be modified to cover artifact function.
Keywords Function  Biological function  Modal theory of function  Trait type individuation
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DOI 10.5840/jphil2010107834
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Bence Nanay (2014). Teleosemantics Without Etiology. Philosophy of Science 81 (5):798-810.
Jonathan Birch (2012). Robust Processes and Teleological Language. European Journal for Philosophy of Science 3 (3):299-312.

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