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Are biological traits explained by their 'selected effect' functions?

Christie, Joshua R. and Brusse, Carl and Bourrat, Pierrick and Takacs, Peter and Griffiths, Paul E. (2021) Are biological traits explained by their 'selected effect' functions? [Preprint]

Christie et al. - 2021 - Target Article Do Proper Functions Explain the Ex.pdf - Accepted Version

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The selected effects or ‘etiological’ theory of Proper function is a naturalistic and realist account of biological teleology. It is used to analyse normativity in philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of medicine and elsewhere. The theory has been developed with a simple and intuitive view of natural selection. Traits are selected because of their positive effects on the fitness of the organisms that have them. These ‘selected effects’ are the Proper functions of the traits. Proponents argue that this analysis of biological teleology has the unique advantage that the selected effect function of a trait is also a causal explanation of the trait: the trait exists because it performs this function. We show, however, that selected effect functions as currently defined explain the existence of traits only under highly restrictive assumptions about evolutionary dynamics. In many common scenarios in which traits evolve by natural selection, selected effect functions do not explain those traits. This is because definitions of selected effect function extract from any evolutionary scenario only the information that would be explanatorily relevant in the simple evolutionary scenario implicit in those definitions. When applied to more complex scenarios selected effect functions omit the key information that is explanatorily relevant in those scenarios. The assumptions required for selected effect functions to be explanatory are particularly unlikely to hold in the domain that its proponents care most about - the evolution of representation. A more adequate selected effects theory of Proper functions may be possible, but will require much greater attention to the structure of actual evolutionary explanations.

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Item Type: Preprint
Christie, Joshua
Bourrat, Pierrickp.bourrat@gmail.com0000-0002-4465-6015
Griffiths, Paul
Keywords: selected effect, Proper function, biological teleology, biological trait, natural selection
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
Specific Sciences > Biology > Function/Teleology
Depositing User: Professor Paul Edmund Griffiths
Date Deposited: 12 Nov 2021 04:04
Last Modified: 12 Nov 2021 04:04
Item ID: 19832
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
Specific Sciences > Biology > Function/Teleology
Date: 2021

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