Artifacts and Organisms: A Case for a New Etiological Theory of Functions

Publication Year:
Usage 623
Downloads 623
Repository URL:
Longy, Fran├žoise
preprint description
Most philosophers adopt an etiological conception of functions, but not one that uniformly explains the functions attributed to material entities irrespective of whether they are natural or man-made. Here, I investigate the widespread idea that a combination of the two current etiological theories, SEL and INT, can offer a satisfactory account of the proper functions of both organisms and artifacts. (Roughly, SEL equates a function with a selected effect and INT with an intentional content). Making explicit what a realist theory of function supposes, I first show that SEL offers a realist theory of biological functions in which these are objective properties of a peculiar sort. I argue next that an artifact function demonstrates the same objective nature as a biological function when it is accounted for by SEL, but not when it is accounted for by INT. I explain why a dual theory of artifact functions admitting both INT and SEL functions is to be dismissed. I establish that neither INT nor SEL alone can account for all artifact functions. Drawing the conclusion that we need a new etiological theory of function, I show how one can overcome the apparent inevitability of INT for some artifact functions. Finally, I outline a new etiological theory of functions that applies equally to biological entities and to artifacts.