Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 29, Issue 5, pp 747–759 | Cite as

Revisiting recent etiological theories of functions

  • Daniel M. KraemerEmail author


Arguably, the most widely endorsed account of normative functions in philosophy of biology is an etiological theory that holds that the function of current traits is fixed by the past selection history of other traits of that type. The earlier formulations of this “selected-effects” theory had trouble accommodating vestigial traits. In order to remedy these difficulties, the influential recent selection or modern history selected-effects theory was introduced. This paper expands upon and strengthens the argument that this theory has trouble stemming from recent “no variation” cases. In addition, several influential arguments for the necessity of including a selection requirement in a theory of normative biological functions are contested. It is suggested that accounting for biological functions in certain areas of biology (such as physiology and the neurosciences) does not require adverting to selection.


Functions Malfunctions Normative functions Selected-effects theory of functions 



I am grateful to Robert Brandon, the late Fred Dretske, and especially Karen Neander for helpful comments on previous versions of this paper. I also benefitted from suggestions made by an anonymous reviewer and by the editor of this journal, Kim Sterelny.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Florida Atlantic UniversityBoca RatonUSA

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