Mechanistic Explanations and Teleological Functions

The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (forthcoming)
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This paper defines and defends a notion of teleological function which is fit to figure in explanations concerning how organic systems, and the items which compose them, are able to perform certain activities, such as surviving and reproducing or pumping blood. According to this notion, a teleological function of an item (such as the heart) is a typical way in which items of that type contribute to some containing system's ability to do some activity. An account of what it is for an item to contribute to a containing system's ability to perform an activity is provided. I argue that the view acquires its normative status in virtue of the fact that it obeys a function-accident distinction and obeys a function-dysfunction distinction; that the view is ahistorical; and, that its ahistoricity provides it with an advantage over one of its main competitors.



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Andrew Rubner
Rutgers - New Brunswick

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