Functions: selection and mechanisms

  • Philippe Huneman

Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 363)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-viii
  2. Philippe Huneman
    Pages 1-16
  3. Biological Functions and Functional Explanations: Genes, Cells, Organisms and Ecosystems – Functions, Organization and Development in Life Sciences

  4. Biological Functions and Functional Explanations: Genes, Cells, Organisms and Ecosystems – Functional Pluralism for Biologists?

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 81-81
    2. Robert N. Brandon
      Pages 97-104
  5. Psychology, Philosophy of Mind and Technology: Functions in a Man’s World – Metaphysics, Function and Philosophy of Mind

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 131-131
  6. Psychology, Philosophy of Mind and Technology: Functions in a Man’s World – Philosophy of Technology, Design and Functions

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 183-183
    2. Larry Wright
      Pages 233-243
  7. Back Matter
    Pages 233-243

About this book


This  volume handles in various perspectives the concept of function and the nature of functional explanations, topics much discussed since two major and conflicting accounts have been raised by Larry Wright and Robert Cummins’s papers in the 1970s. Here, both Wright’s ‘etiological theory of functions’ and Cummins’s ‘systemic’ conception of functions are refined and elaborated in the light of current scientific practice, with papers showing how the ‘etiological’ theory faces several objections and may in reply be revisited, while its counterpart became ever more sophisticated, as researchers discovered fresh applications for it.  

Relying on a firm knowledge of the original positions and debates, this volume presents cutting-edge research evincing the complexities that today pertain in function theory in various sciences. Alongside original papers from authors central to the controversy, work by emerging researchers taking novel perspectives will add to the potential avenues to be followed in the future. Not only does the book adopt no a priori assumptions about the scope of functional explanations, it also incorporates material from several very different scientific domains, e.g. neurosciences, ecology, or technology.  

In general, functions are implemented in mechanisms; and functional explanations in biology have often an essential relation with natural selection. These two basic claims set the stage for this book’s coverage of investigations concerning both ‘functional’ explanations, and the ‘metaphysics’ of functions. It casts new light on these claims, by testing them through their confrontation with scientific developments in biology, psychology, and recent developments concerning the metaphysics of realization. Rather than debating a single theory of functions, this book presents the richness of philosophical issues raised by functional discourse throughout the various sciences.​


Causal role theory of functions Determination of content Ecosystem selection Etiological theory of function Evolutionary biology Functional explanations Historical concepts in biology Larry Wright Neurosciences New mechanism Selected effects functions Systemic theory of functions William Wimsatt

Editors and affiliations

  • Philippe Huneman
    • 1
  1. 1.IHPSTCNRS/Université Paris I/ENSParisFrance

Bibliographic information

  • DOI
  • Copyright Information Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013
  • Publisher Name Springer, Dordrecht
  • eBook Packages Humanities, Social Sciences and Law
  • Print ISBN 978-94-007-5303-7
  • Online ISBN 978-94-007-5304-4
  • About this book