What’s the Point? A Presentist Social Functionalist Account of Institutional Purpose

Philosophy of the Social Sciences 52 (1-2):53-80 (2022)
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Although it is clear that many of the major contemporary social problems center on the extent to which social institutions do or do not function as they are meant to do, it is still unclear exactly what the function of a social institution is—and thus when this function is undermined. This paper presents and defends a novel theory of social functionalism—presentist social functionalism—to answer these questions. According to this theory, the function of social institutions is grounded in those of their features that, in the current cultural environment, increase their chances to survive or reproduce. To bring out the fruitfulness of this account, the paper analyzes the (still controversial) question of the function of corporations, and shows that present social functionalism (a) points to the kinds of data that would be helpful to determine this function, (b) brings up hitherto overlooked theoretical possibilities, and (c) allows for the clearer assessment and handling of corporate corruption.



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Armin W. Schulz
University of Kansas

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