Note on the Individuation of Biological Traits

Journal of Philosophy 115 (4):215-221 (2018)
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Bence Nanay has argued that we must abandon the etiological theory of teleological function because this theory explains functions and functional categories in a circular manner. Paul Griffiths argued earlier that we should retain the etiological theory and instead prevent the circularity by making etiologies independent of functional categories. Karen Neander and Alex Rosenberg reply to Nanay similarly, and argue that we should analyze functions in terms of natural selection acting not on functional categories, but merely on lineages. Nanay replies that these lineages cannot be individuated except by reference to functional categories. Worryingly, Neander and Rosenberg themselves have previously argued persuasively that homology often depends on function. This article addresses their arguments and shows how to escape them: Regardless whether the arguments are right about long-term homological categories, they do not apply to generation-to-generation homology. The latter, moreover, is sufficient for individuating the lineages needed to explain teleological functions.

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Mihnea Capraru
Nazarbayev University

Citations of this work

Proper functions: etiology without typehood.Geoff Keeling & Niall Paterson - 2022 - Biology and Philosophy 37 (3):1-17.

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References found in this work

Functional analysis and proper functions.Paul E. Griffiths - 1993 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44 (3):409-422.
A Modal Theory of Function.Bence Nanay - 2010 - Journal of Philosophy 107 (8):412-431.
Function without Purpose: The Uses of Causal Role Function in Evolutionary Biology.Ron Amundson & George V. Lauder - 1973 - In David L. Hull & Michael Ruse (eds.), The philosophy of biology. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 227--57.
15. Types of Traits: The Importance of Functional Homologues.Karen Neander - 2002 - In André Ariew, Robert Cummins & Mark Perlman (eds.), Functions: New Essays in the Philosophy of Psychology and Biology. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 390.

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