Pluralism About Function

Wednesday, April 23, 2008 - 2:50pm - 3:30pm
EE/CS 3-180
Peter Schwartz (Indiana University Center for Bioethics and Indiana University School of Medicine)
There is no question that systematic functional analysis, which explains the capacities or features of a system based on interactions among its parts, plays an important role in biology. But an important role is also played by selectionist functional analysis, where engineering or design principles carry explanatory weight based on the action of natural selection. While some have questioned the legitimacy of selectionist functional analysis, asserting that it involves illegitimate teleological notions or an incorrect understanding of evolutionary theory, careful work by philosophers of biology over the last 35 years has helped explicate and defend this approach. Uses of the concept of function in biology may be interpreted, based on context, in terms of one or the other type of functional analysis, and sometimes in terms of both, and thus pluralism about function should be embraced.