Function, Homology and Character Individuation

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Griffiths, Paul
preprint description
Many philosophers believe that 1) most uses of functional language in biology make implicit reference to natural selection and 2) the fundamental way in which biologists identify parts and processes in organisms is by their selected function(s). Both these claims are mistaken. Much functional language in biology refers to actual causal roles, and if this were not so, biology would be impossible. The extensive biological literature on the ‘character concept’ focuses on another principle of biological identity, namely homology. I outline some of this work and use it to refute philosophical arguments for the importance and ubiquity of classification by adaptive function.