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Against Organizational Functions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022


Over the last 20 years, several philosophers have developed a new approach to biological functions, the organizational (or systems-theoretic) approach. This is not a single theory but a family of theories based on the idea that a trait token can acquire a function by virtue of the way it contributes to a complex, organized system and thereby to its own continued persistence as a token. I argue that the organizational approach faces a serious liberality objection. I examine three different ways organizational theorists have tried to avoid that objection and show how they fail.

Philosophy of Science , Volume 84 , Issue 5 , December 2017 , pp. 1093 - 1103
Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

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I am very grateful to Matteo Mossio and Gerhard Schlosser for comments on an earlier version of this argument. I am also grateful to the audience members at the 2016 meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association for their insightful criticisms and suggestions.


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