Acta Biotheoretica

, Volume 64, Issue 3, pp 263–275

Functions, Organization and Etiology: A Reply to Artiga and Martinez

Regular Article


We reply to Artiga and Martinez’s claim according to which the organizational account of cross-generation functions implies a backward looking interpretation of etiology, just as standard etiological theories of function do. We argue that Artiga and Martinez’s claim stems from a fundamental misunderstanding about the notion of “closure”, on which the organizational account relies. In particular, they incorrectly assume that the system, which is relevant for ascribing cross-generation organizational function, is the lineage. In contrast, we recall that organizational closure refers to a relational description of a network of mutual dependencies, abstracted from time, in which production relations are irrelevant. From an organizational perspective, ascribing a function to an entity means locating it in the abstract system that realizes closure. In particular, the position of each entity within the relational system conveys an etiological explanation of its existence, because of its dependence on the effects exerted by other entities subject to closure. Because of the abstract relational nature of closure, we maintain that the organizational account of functions does not endorse a backward looking interpretation of etiology. As a consequence, it does not fall prey of epiphenomenalism.


Biological functions Organization Closure Etiology Epiphenomenalism 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut d’Histoire et de Philosophie des Sciences et des Techniques (IHPST)CNRS/Paris 1/ENSParisFrance
  2. 2.Department of Logic, History and Philosophy of ScienceUNEDMadridSpain

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