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Concepts of function in biology and biomedicine

Christie, Joshua R. and Wilkinson, Zachary and Gawronski, Stefan A. and Griffiths, Paul E. (2021) Concepts of function in biology and biomedicine. [Preprint]


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Several philosophical accounts of disease are constructed around the idea that disease is a failure of physiological parts or processes to perform their biological function. Determining whether a phenotype—such as obesity—is a disease or determining the level of functioning at which some aspect of physiology—such as response to insulin—becomes pathological throws considerable weight on the concept of biological function. However, there are a number of philosophical theories of biological function, each of which defines function differently. It is not clear which theory, or combination of theories, we should use to explicate the medical conception of function. We have no systematic way to determine how biologists and medical practitioners conceive of, or write about, function in their respective disciplines. To further complicate matters, natural language is replete with ambiguities, and scientific manuscripts often use terms imprecisely. Without a descriptive understanding of how different conceptions of function are used in biology and medicine, we have little hope of bringing insights about biological function to bear on disputes about function and malfunction in medicine. Here we develop a systematic method for analysing references to function by outlining a classification scheme that combines syntactic and semantic analysis in a dependency-grammar framework.

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Item Type: Preprint
Christie, Joshua
Wilkinson, Zachary
Gawronski, Stefan
Griffiths, Paul
Keywords: experimental philosophy philosophy of medicine function
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Biology > Function/Teleology
Depositing User: Joshua R. Christie
Date Deposited: 29 Apr 2021 04:18
Last Modified: 29 Apr 2021 04:18
Item ID: 18955
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
Specific Sciences > Biology > Function/Teleology
Date: 27 April 2021

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