The function of function

Abstract
Contemporary analyses of biological function almost invariably advocate a naturalistic analysis, grounding biological functions in some feature of the mind-independent world. Many recent accounts suggest that no single analysis will be appropriate for all cases of use and that biological teleology should be split into several distinct categories. This paper argues that such accounts have paid too little attention to the way in which functional language is used, concentrating instead on the types of situation in which it is used. An example of the role of teleology in science is examined and, on the basis of conclusions drawn from this, an alternative unifying analysis is proposed. It is suggested that, contrary to naturalistic accounts, teleology in biology carries no ontological commitment whatsoever to any class of mind-independent entities or properties. Instead, it is best regarded as a methodological device which is used to focus interest, formulate research perspectives and facilitate the structuring of certain questions or types of question that are pertinent in a given context of interest.
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