Biological Teleology, Reductionism, and Verbal Disputes

Foundations of Science 26 (4):859-880 (2021)
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The extensive philosophical discussions and analyses in recent decades of function-talk in biology have done much to clarify what biologists mean when they ascribe functions to traits, but the basic metaphysical question—is there genuine teleology and design in the natural world, or only the appearance of this?—has persisted, as recent work both defending, and attacking, teleology from a Darwinian perspective, attest. I argue that in the context of standard contemporary evolutionary theory, this is for the most part a verbal, rather than a substantive dispute: the disputants are talking past one another. To justify this claim I develop a general framework within which reductionist views, such as the standard ‘etiological’ account of biofunctions, occupy an intermediate position between what I call full-blooded realism and full-blooded anti-realism, and suggest that whether such views count as ‘realist’ views has no objective, theory-neutral answer.



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Sandy C. Boucher
University of New England (Australia)

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The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas S. Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Ian Hacking.
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.Thomas Samuel Kuhn - 1962 - Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Edited by Otto Neurath.
Word and Object.Willard Van Orman Quine - 1960 - Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press.

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