Whose purposes? Biological teleology and intentionality

Synthese 195 (10):4507-4524 (2018)

Abstract

Teleosemantic theories aspire to develop a naturalistic account of intentional agency and thought by appeal to biological teleology. In particular, most versions of teleosemantics study the emergence of intentionality in terms of biological purposes introduced by Darwinian evolution. The aim of this paper is to argue that the sorts of biological purposes identified by these evolutionary approaches do not allow for a satisfactory account of intentionality. More precisely, I claim that such biological purposes should be attributed to reproductive chains or lineages, rather than to individual traits or organisms, whereas the purposes underlying intentional agency and thought are typically attributed to individuals. In the last part of the paper I suggest that related difficulties are also faced, despite appearances, by accounts of intentionality relying on alternative organizational approaches to biological teleology.

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