In biology, functions are attributed to the traits, behaviors, and parts of living things. A thing’s function can refer to its purpose, a benefit it confers on an organism, or the causal role it contributes to a more complex system capacity.
Biologists attribute functions to a diversity of natural phenomena, from chemical and cellular processes to the organs, traits, and behavior of organisms. It is common for them to say, for example, that the koala’s pouch has the function of protecting its young, that the function of the bee dance is to direct other bees to pollen, or that chlorophyll in plants functions to absorb light and convert it into energy. Yet the term “function” is ambiguous, carrying importantly different meanings and occupying distinct explanatory projects in the biological sciences. This entry will introduce two characteristic features of biological functions,...
- Davies, P. S. (2003). Norms of nature: Naturalism and the nature of functions. London: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Godfrey-Smith, P. (2001). Three kinds of Adaptationism. In S. Orzack & E. Sober (Eds.), Adaptationism and optimality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Hardcastle, V. G. (2002). On the normativity of functions. In A. Ariew (Ed.), Functions: New essays in the philosophy of psychology and biology (pp. 144–156). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Millikan, R. G. (1984). Language, thought, and other biological categories: New foundations for realism. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar