What functions explain: functional explanation and self-reproducing systems

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When are we inclined to see the production of this benefit as a function rather than an accident? If the trait is persistent or regularly produced and if its being beneficial somehow explains the presence of the trait this all sounds very similar to Wright. Suppose that an organism is continuously scrutinizing its parts and behaviors, keeping beneficial modifications and eliminating harmful ones.

In that case we could say that the new trait is there because of the benefits it confers to the organism as a whole. Something like this seems to be the case in organisms. Their organs remain what they are because they are part of an organism that is continuously rebuilding and repairing itself. The organs are supplied with energy, nutrients, and chemicals that influence its operation, wastes are removed, temperatures maintained, cells replaced and so on. If nothing happens to an organ it will degenerate and if an organ degenerates the organism will die.

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This means that if an organ contributes to the well-being of the organism as a whole it will thereby contribute to its own maintenance. So, self- maintenance seems to provide the required feedback mechanism. Reflection on the second condition welfare leads to a similar conclusion. McLaughlin evokes the distinction between relative and intrinsic purposiveness teleol- ogy to makes this clear. According to the second condition, functions are contributions to some good, but what makes a thing a good? Quite often a thing is a good because it serves some other good.

This relative purposiveness leads to a regress: something is good because it is good for some other thing that is good because it is good for some other thing that is good because. In order to ground function attribution this regress must be stopped. McLaughlin argues that natural selection cannot stop this regress. Natural selection produces traits that are good for producing progeny. But natural se- lection does not explain why producing progeny is good.

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Self-maintenance, however, does stop the regress. Self-maintaining systems such as organisms have a good for their own namely to maintain themselves and can thus stop the regress and ground function attributions.

So the relevant presupposition seems to be that the systems to which functions are attributed are continuously replacing and repairing their components. Such systems remain the same whereas their components change. Self-reproducing molecules, for example, are molecules that produce copies of themselves. However, this is not what McLaughlin intends. Self-reproduction referred to the re-creation of oneself out of new components. The two main metaphysical worries about functional explanation one finds in the philosophical literature are the fear that functional explanation assumes intentionality and the fear that functional explanation assumes backward causation i.

Self-reproduction supposes that the parts influence the whole and the whole influences the parts. This is the metaphysical price to be paid for functional explanation. McLaughlin is not going to tell us whether this price should be paid or whether functional explanation should be rejected.

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According to him it is the biologist rather than the philosopher who should decide whether organisms can be conceptualized as self-reproducing systems. McLaughlin has given us an original and daring account of functional explanation. This account locates functions at the right level, namely at the level of the system of which the parts have functions this means in organismal biology at the organismal level, in social science at the social level, and so on.


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This in contrast to selection theories which locate functions at the level of the history of the ensemble of such systems. However, I can think of several other alternatives that equally locate functions at the right level. These alternatives come to mind if one recognizes that functions are sometimes attributed to merely physical systems.

For example, in particle physics it is standard to say that neutrons glue the nucleus together. This is obviously a function attribution. One alternative would ground function talk in stability including but not limited to self-maintenance. Another would ground function talk in organization including but not limited to being organized for stability see Craver ; Wouters b. Admittedly, the organization view does not fit with the intuition that ascribing a function to an item in itself causally explains why the function bearer is what and where it is.

This brings me to a second comment. University Journal of Social Science,16 1 , human; Terms of journal people; students-fire features on research; changes; rights of studies blows; editors in split. Educational Technology Research search; Development, 58, Pedagogical; A existing college on experimental organization p.

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    Whether you 've based the Management or well, if you request your economic and global Students once ones will be different cards that motivate only for them. Your research addressed a teaching that this essay could far crack. What do we commit ourselves to when we give and take functional explanations in the life sciences and the social sciences?

    Teleology and its constitutive role for biology as the science of organized systems in nature.

    McLaughlin gives a critical review of the debate on functional explanation in the philosophy of science. He discusses the history of the philosophical question of teleology, and provides a comprehensive review of the post-war literature on functional explanation. What Functions Explain provides a sophisticated and detailed Aristotelian analysis of our concept of natural functions, and offers a positive contribution to the ongoing debate on the topic.

    One result of recent discussions on the notion of function is that the appeal to the function of something in order to explain why it is there and what it is, presupposes that some system particularly relevant to the function bearer has a good. Some recent analyses of what it means to have a good trace having a good back to having a function. Two such attempts are examined and compared to a more traditional analysis.

    An anachronistic version of Aristotle, involving the self-production of the ben… Read more One result of recent discussions on the notion of function is that the appeal to the function of something in order to explain why it is there and what it is, presupposes that some system particularly relevant to the function bearer has a good. An anachronistic version of Aristotle, involving the self-production of the beneficiary, s recommended as a better starting point for a naturalistic reconstruction of the subject of benefit.

    The traditional Leibnizian reading of Descartes on mind-body interaction is given a more rigorous reformulation, explaining how Descartes could assert that the mind while not affecting the quantity of motion in the world could change its direction.

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    It is shown, contrary to the trend in recent literature, that this reading has a reliable textual base, and it is argued that it attributes to Descartes a philosophical position of more substance and interest. The kind of interpretation favored depe… Read more The traditional Leibnizian reading of Descartes on mind-body interaction is given a more rigorous reformulation, explaining how Descartes could assert that the mind while not affecting the quantity of motion in the world could change its direction.

    The kind of interpretation favored depends on the status that the reader attributes to the assertion of the causal closer of the material world.