Jonathan Birch
London School of Economics
I consider some hitherto unexplored examples of teleological language in the sciences. In explicating these examples, I aim to show (a) that such language is not the sole preserve of the biological sciences, and (b) that not all such talk is reducible to the ascription of functions. In chemistry and biochemistry, scientists explaining molecular rearrangements and protein folding talk informally of molecules rearranging “in order to” maximize stability. Evolutionary biologists, meanwhile, often speak of traits evolving “in order to” optimize some fitness-relevant variable. I argue that in all three contexts such locutions are best interpreted as shorthands for more detailed explanations which, were we to spell them out in full, would show that the relevant process would robustly converge towards the same end-point despite variation in initial conditions. This suggests that, in biology, such talk presupposes a substantial form of adaptationism. The upshot is that such shorthands may be more applicable in the physical sciences than the biological.
Keywords teleology  robustness  chemistry  biology  adaptationism  functions
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DOI 10.1007/s13194-011-0043-5
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References found in this work BETA

Inference to the Best Explanation.Peter Lipton - 1991 - London and New York: Routledge/Taylor and Francis Group.
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Citations of this work BETA

Has Grafen Formalized Darwin?Jonathan Birch - 2014 - Biology and Philosophy 29 (2):175-180.
Biological Functions and Natural Selection: A Reappraisal.Marc Artiga - 2021 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 11 (2):1-22.
Revisiting Darwinian Teleology: A Case for Inclusive Fitness as Design Explanation.Philippe Huneman - 2019 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 76:101188.

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