David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Synthese 116 (3):303-354 (1998)
Function and teleology can be naturalized either by reference to systems with a particular type of organization (organizational views) or by reference to a particular kind of history (etiological views). As functions are generally ascribed to states or traits according to their current role and regardless of their origin, etiological accounts are inappropriate. Here, I offer a systems-theoretical interpretation as a new version of an organizational account of functionality, which is more comprehensive than traditional cybernetic views and provides explicit criteria for empirically testable function ascriptions. I propose, that functional states, traits or items are those components of a complex system, which are under certain circumstances necessary for their self-re-production. I show, how this notion can be applied in intra- and trans-generational function ascriptions in biology, how it can deal with the problems of multifunctionality and functional equivalents, and how it relates to concepts like fitness and adaptation. Finally, I argue that most intentional explanations can be treated as functional explanations.
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