Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 93-109

First online:

The autonomy of functional biology: a reply to Rosenberg

  • Marc LangeAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

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Rosenberg has recently argued that explanations supplied by (what he calls) “functional biology” are mere promissory notes for macromolecular adaptive explanations. Rosenberg's arguments currently constitute one of the most substantial challenges to the autonomy, irreducibility, and indispensability of the explanations supplied by functional biology. My responses to Rosenberg's arguments will generate a novel account of the autonomy of functional biology. This account will turn on the relations between counterfactuals, scientific explanations, and natural laws. Crucially, in their treatment of the laws' relation to counterfactuals, Rosenberg's arguments beg the question against the autonomy of functional biology. This relation is considerably more subtle than is suggested by familiar slogans such as “Laws support counterfactuals; accidents don't.”

Explanation Laws Function Autonomy Reductionism Counterfactual