Erkenntnis 67 (1):65-80 (2007)

Authors
Arno Wouters
Utrecht University
Abstract
This paper is concerned with reasonings that purport to explain why certain organisms have certain traits by showing that their actual design is better than contrasting designs. Biologists call such reasonings 'functional explanations'. To avoid confusion with other uses of that phrase, I call them 'design explanations'. This paper discusses the structure of design explanations and how they contribute to scientific understanding. Design explanations are contrastive and often compare real organisms to hypothetical organisms that cannot possibly exist. They are not causal but appeal to functional dependencies between an organism's different traits. These explanations point out that because an organism has certain traits, it cannot be alive if the trait to be explained were replaced by a specified alternative. They can be understood from a mechanistic point of view as revealing the constraints on what mechanisms can be alive.
Keywords functional explanation  design explanation  mechanistic explanation  constraint  contrastive explanation  functional dependency
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DOI 10.1007/s10670-007-9045-2
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References found in this work BETA

Functional Analysis.Robert Cummins - 1975 - Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.
The Philosophy of Biology.David L. Hull & Michael Ruse (eds.) - 1973 - London: Oxford University Press.

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Citations of this work BETA

Representation in Cognitive Science.Nicholas Shea - 2018 - Oxford University Press.
Explanation in Computational Neuroscience: Causal and Non-Causal.M. Chirimuuta - 2018 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 69 (3):849-880.
The Phenomena of Homology.Paul Edmund Griffiths - 2007 - Biology and Philosophy 22 (5):643-658.

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