David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Ezio Di Nucci
Jack Alan Reynolds
Learn more about PhilPapers
Erkenntnis 67 (1):65-80 (2007)
This paper is concerned with reasonings that purport to explain why certain organisms have certain traits by showing that their actual design is better than contrasting designs. Biologists call such reasonings 'functional explanations'. To avoid confusion with other uses of that phrase, I call them 'design explanations'. This paper discusses the structure of design explanations and how they contribute to scientific understanding. Design explanations are contrastive and often compare real organisms to hypothetical organisms that cannot possibly exist. They are not causal but appeal to functional dependencies between an organism's different traits. These explanations point out that because an organism has certain traits , it cannot be alive if the trait to be explained were replaced by a specified alternative . They can be understood from a mechanistic point of view as revealing the constraints on what mechanisms can be alive
|Keywords||functional explanation design explanation mechanistic explanation constraint contrastive explanation functional dependency|
|Categories||categorize this paper)|
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
|Through your library|
References found in this work BETA
Wesley Salmon (1984). Scientific Explanation and the Causal Structure of the World. Princeton University Press.
Stuart Glennan (2002). Rethinking Mechanistic Explanation. Proceedings of the Philosophy of Science Association 2002 (3):S342-353.
Robert C. Cummins (1975). Functional Analysis. Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.
Citations of this work BETA
Paul E. Griffiths (2007). The Phenomena of Homology. Biology and Philosophy 22 (5):643-658.
Sara Green (2015). Can Biological Complexity Be Reverse Engineered? Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 53:73-83.
Sara Green (2015). Revisiting Generality in Biology: Systems Biology and the Quest for Design Principles. Biology and Philosophy 30 (5):629-652.
Similar books and articles
Peter McLaughlin (2001). What Functions Explain: Functional Explanation and Self-Reproducing Systems. Cambridge University Press.
Justin Schwartz (1993). Functional Explanation and Metaphysical Individualism. Philosophy of Science 60 (2):278-301.
D. Turner (2000). The Functions of Fossils: Inference and Explanation in Functional Morphology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C 31 (1):193-212.
Rob Vanderbeeken (2006). Can Intentional and Functional Explanations of Actions Coexist? The Proceedings of the Twenty-First World Congress of Philosophy 9:143-147.
Harold Kincaid (2004). Contextualism, Explanation and the Social Sciences. Philosophical Explorations 7 (3):201 – 218.
Phyllis McKay Illari & Jon Williamson (2011). Mechanisms Are Real and Local. In Phyllis McKay Illari, Federica Russo & Jon Williamson (eds.), Causality in the Sciences. OUP Oxford
G. A. Cohen (1982). Functional Explanation, Consequence Explanation, and Marxism. Inquiry 25 (1):27 – 56.
Mark Risjord (1999). No Strings Attached: Functional and Intentional Action Explanations. Philosophy of Science 66 (3):313.
Gualtiero Piccinini & Carl Craver (2011). Integrating Psychology and Neuroscience: Functional Analyses as Mechanism Sketches. Synthese 183 (3):283-311.
Arno Wouters (1995). Viability Explanation. Biology and Philosophy 10 (4):435-457.
Added to index2009-01-28
Total downloads71 ( #58,295 of 1,793,264 )
Recent downloads (6 months)1 ( #463,804 of 1,793,264 )
How can I increase my downloads?
|Start a new thread||There is 1 thread in this forum|
Università degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza"
Design explanations are explanations, or maybe just arguments, addressing questions about why certain organisms have some traits instead of others. For example, since tetrapods have lungs but don't have gills, it seems reasonable to ask why. Design explanations attempt to answer such questions by looking at functional dependencies and integration between different traits in the same organism. For example, we might start by looking at the functional requirements for respiration in a large organism living on land, invoke the relevant laws from physics or chemistry or biology, and show that having gills would make the organism less viable.
Wouters proposes a schema for design explanations. In my words:
1) Specify the organism's properties and conditions of existence.
2) Assert that trait T possessed by the organism is more useful than alternative trait T'.
3) Provide an explanation of 2).
I see 2) as an undue limitation. Contrasting alternative traits is a very important strategy but we could ma ... (read more)