Evolutionary Functions and Philosophy of Mind

Dissertation, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1994)

Paul Davies
College of William and Mary
This dissertation is concerned with two general issues. A theory of functional or teleological properties, as possessed by natural objects, grounded in the theory of evolution by natural selection. This I refer to as the evolutionary theory of functions. A cluster of theories in philosophy of mind which attempt to explicate intentionality--the representational powers of mental phenomena--in terms of evolutionary functions. ;The aim of this dissertation is threefold. To develop a version of the evolutionary theory of functions in which the proper role of evolution by natural selection is made fully explicit. To defend two theses in philosophy of biology, namely that the evolutionary theory of functions, when properly articulated, cannot justify the attribution of malfunctions to any natural objects, and that the evolutionary theory of functions justifies the attribution of evolutionary functions only to those organismic traits that directly causally engage the relevant selective demands, and hence does not justify the attribution of any evolutionary functions to paradigmatically functional traits such as hearts, kidneys, etc. To defend two analogous these in philosophy of mind, namely that the evolutionary theory of functions, insofar as it cannot account for malfunctions, cannot account for misrepresentations , and that the evolutionary theory of functions warrants the attribution of evolutionary functions to just those effects of the mind which directly engage the organism with its environment, but not to those mechanisms or states of the mind concerned with representational contents. ;A secondary aim is to argue that the most developed view of evolutionary functions in the recent literature--a view presented in Millikan --is inadequate on internal grounds. ;The general conclusion of the dissertation is twofold. First, the evolutionary theory of functions is restricted in surprising ways; this is an important result in philosophy of biology. Second, and as a consequence of the first, the evolutionary theory of functions is of no avail in theories of intentionality; this is an important result in philosophy of mind
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