Many objects in the world have functions. Typewriters are for typing. Can-openers are for opening cans. Lawnmowers are for cutting grass. That is what these things are for. Every day around the world people attribute functions to objects. Some of the objects with functions are organs or parts of living organisms. Hearts are for pumping blood. Eyes are for seeing. Countless works in biology explain the “Form, Function, and Evolution of... ” everything from bee dances to elephant tusks to pandas’ (...) ‘thumbs’. Many scientific explanations, in areas as diverse as psychology, sociology, economics, medical research, and neuroscience, rest on appeals to the function and/or malfunction of things or systems. They talk of how humans and other organisms or their parts work, what their functions are, why they are present, and how different situations will affect them and how they will react. Philosophers, going back to Aristotle, used to make generous use of functions in describing objects, organisms, their interactions, and even as the basis of ethics and metaphysics. And yet, since the Enlightenment, talk of the function of natural objects, teleological function, began to be viewed with suspicion, as the mechanical model of the world replaced the old Aristotelian model. From a religious standpoint, it used to be easy to see how objects in the natural world could have natural functions, for God was said to instill functions by design throughout Creation. But philosophers became increasingly reluctant to invoke God to solve every difficult philosophical problem, and became unwilling to indulge in such religious explanations of teleology. (shrink)
This chapter contains sections titled: Introduction Function and Malfunction Function and Evolution Function Based on Past Origins Biological Functions Based on the Distant Past: Natural Selection Fitness and Goal‐Contribution Accounts Neo‐Teleology Looking at the Present: Causal Roles and Functions Evolution Bites Back: Vindication of the Selectionist Approach Postscript: Counterpoint Acknowledgments Notes References.
Two-Factor conceptual role theories of mental content are often intended to allow mental representations to satisfy two competing requirements. One is the Fregean requirement that two representations, like public language expressions, can have different meanings even though they have the same reference (as in the case of âmorning starâ and âevening starâ). The other is Putnam's Twin-earth requirement that two representations or expressions can have the same conceptual role but differ in meaning due to differing references. But I argue that (...) the hidden agenda behind these theories is to make misrepresentation possible. A simple, one-factor conceptual role theory (like the "crude causal theory" Fodor describes) falls prey to the disjunction problem. If every use or application of a concept is meaning-determining, then there can be no misuse of that concept. Each use will partially determine its meaning, and, use which is covered in the meaning cannot be a misuse, error, or misrepresentation. I argue that the referential factor in two-factor conceptual role theories is what is supposed to make misrepresentation possible. But it fails to do so, because when the two factors do not determine the same meaning, there is no non-question-begging way to have one of them take precedence and force meaning to align with one factor and deviate from the other. (shrink)