Acta Biotheoretica

, Volume 64, Issue 3, pp 263–275 | Cite as

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 


  1. Artiga M, Martinez M (2016) The organizational account of function is an etiological account of function. Acta Biotheor 64(2):105–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bigelow J, Pargetter R (1987) Functions. J Philos 84:181–196CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cummins R (1975) Functional analysis. J Philos 72:741–765CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Davies PS (2001) Norms of nature. Naturalism and the nature of functions. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  5. Delancey C (2006) Ontology and teleofunctions: a defense and revision of the systematic account of teleological explanation. Synthese 150:69–98CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Godfrey-Smith P (1994) A modern history theory of functions. Noûs 28:344–362CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Millikan RG (1989) In defense of proper functions. Philos Sci 56:288–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Montévil M, Mossio M (2015) Biological organisation as closure of constraints. J Theor Biol 372:179–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Moreno A, Mossio M (2015) Biological autonomy. A philosophical and theoretical enquiry. Springer, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  10. Mossio M (2013) Closure, causal. In: Dubitzky W, Wolkenhauer O, Cho K-H, Yokota H (eds) Encyclopedia of systems biology. Springer, New York, pp 415–418CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Mossio M, Saborido C, Moreno A (2009) An organizational account for biological functions. Br J Philos Sci 60(4):813–841CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Neander K (1991) Function as selected effects: the conceptual analyst’s defense. Philos Sci 58:168–184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Nunes N, Moreno A, El Hani C (2014) Function in ecology: an organizational approach. Biol Philos 29(1):123–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Saborido C (2014) New directions in the philosophy of biology: a new taxonomy of functions. In: Galavotti C, Hartmann S, Weber M, Gonzalez W, Dieks D, Uebel T (eds) New directions in the philosophy of science. Springer, New York, pp 235–251Google Scholar
  15. Saborido C, Moreno A (2015) Biological pathology from an organizational perspective. Theor Med Bioeth 36(1):83–95CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Saborido C, Mossio M, Moreno A (2011) Biological organization and cross-generation functions. Br J Philos Sci 62(3):583–606CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Walsh DM (1996) Fitness and function. Br J Philos Sci 47(4):553–574CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Wright L (1973) Functions. Philos Rev 82:139–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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

Personalised recommendations