Four notions of biological function

I argue that there are at least four different ways in which the term ‘function’ is used in connection with the study of living organisms, namely: function as activity, function as biological role, function as biological advantage, and function as selected effect. Notion refers to what an item does by itself; refers to the contribution of an item or activity to a complex activity or capacity of an organism; refers to the value for the organism of an item having a certain character rather than another; refers to the way in which a trait acquired and has maintained its current share in the population. The recognition of a separate notion of function as biological advantage solves the problem of the indeterminate reference situation that has been raised against a counterfactual analysis of function, and emphasizes the importance of counterfactual comparison in the explanatory practice of organismal biology. This reveals a neglected problem in the philosophy of biology, namely that of accounting for the insights provided by counterfactual comparison
Keywords function  functional explanation  counterfactual comparison  survival value  forward looking account
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2003.09.006
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References found in this work BETA
Ruth G. Millikan (1989). In Defense of Proper Functions. Philosophy of Science 56 (June):288-302.
Robert C. Cummins (1975). Functional Analysis. Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.

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Citations of this work BETA
Paul E. Griffiths (2007). The Phenomena of Homology. Biology and Philosophy 22 (5):643-658.
Helena Siipi (2008). Dimensions of Naturalness. Ethics and the Environment 13 (1):pp. 71-103.

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