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In Defense of Proper Functions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2022

Ruth Garrett Millikan*
Department of Philosophy University of Connecticut


I defend the historical definition of “function” originally given in my Language, Thought and Other Biological Categories (1984a). The definition was not offered in the spirit of conceptual analysis but is more akin to a theoretical definition of “function”. A major theme is that nonhistorical analyses of “function” fail to deal adequately with items that are not capable of performing their functions.

Research Article
Copyright © 1989 by the Philosophy of Science Association

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I am grateful to John Troyer, Peter Brown, and Jonathan Bennett, and to the members of the philosophy departments at Dartmouth and at Johns Hopkins, for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this essay.



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