Wright on Functions
Boorse (Christopher)
Source: The Philosophical Review , Jan., 1976, Vol. 85, No. 1 (Jan., 1976), pp. 70-86
Paper - Abstract

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Author's Introduction

  1. Attributing functions to features of organisms is a favorite activity of biologists. The problem of analyzing these function statements generated a lively controversy, to which the most carefully defended contribution to date is surely that of "Wright (Larry) - Functions". Wright also offers a comprehensive critique of rival views.
  2. Although this critique seems largely successful, there are reasons for thinking that his positive proposal remains unsatisfactory.
  3. Wright argues that a certain sort of explanatory force shown by function statements is the central element in their meaning. In particular, he holds that the function of a trait is that one among its effects by which its presence may be explained.
  4. I wish to argue that this etiological approach is inferior to a simple articulation of an older idea: that a function is a contribution to a goal.
  5. In the first section I will discuss Wright's proposal; in the second I will defend the competing goal analysis.

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