Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 675–689 | Cite as

Defining vision: what homology thinking contributes

  • Mohan Matthen


The specialization of visual function within biological function is reason for introducing “homology thinking” into explanations of the visual system. It is argued that such specialization arises when organisms evolve by differentiation from their predecessors. Thus, it is essentially historical, and visual function should be regarded as a lineage property. The colour vision of birds and mammals do not function the same way as one another, on this account, because each is an adaptation to special needs of the visual functions of predecessors—very different kinds of predecessors in each case. Thus, history underlies function. We also see how homology thinking figures in the hierarchical classification of visual systems, and how it supports the explanation of visual function by functional role analysis.


Natural kinds Homology Vision Definitions of vision TVSS Prosthetic vision Adaptationism 



Many thanks to my fellow symposiasts for incisive discussion and many new ideas: Ingo Brigandt, Marc Ereshefsky, Paul Griffiths, and Alan Love. Special thanks to Paul and Ingo for written comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and TechnologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada

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