Function and Teleology


The biological concept of function appears teleological, implying goal directedness or purpose. Ever since the scientific revolution, however, teleology has appeared inconsistent with fundamental scientific principles. Philosophers of biology have attempted to explicate the concept of function so as to make it simultaneously teleological and scientifically acceptable.

Keywords: function; goal; purpose; teleology

Further Reading

Allen C, Bekoff M and Lauder G (eds) (1998) Nature's Purposes: Analyses of Function and Design in Biology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Amundson R and Lauder G (1994) Function without purpose: the uses of causal role function in evolutionary biology. Biology and Philosophy 9: 443–469. [Reprinted in Allen et al., 1998.]

Bigelow J and Pargetter R (1987) Functions. Journal of Philosophy 84: 181–196. [Reprinted in Buller, 1999.]

Buller DJ (ed.) (1999) Function, Selection, and Design. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Cummins R (1975) Functional analysis. Journal of Philosophy 72: 741–765. [Reprinted in Buller, 1999.]

Godfrey‐Smith P (1993) Functions: consensus without unity. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 74: 196–208. [Reprinted in Buller, 1999.]

Hardcastle VG (1999) Understanding functions: a pragmatic approach. In: Hardcastle VG (ed.) Where Biology Meets Psychology: Philosophical Essays, pp. 27–43. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Neander K (1991) The teleological notion of ‘function’. Australasian Journal of Philosophy 69: 454–468. [Reprinted in Buller, 1999.]

Walsh DM and Ariew A (1996) A taxonomy of functions. Canadian Journal of Philosophy 26: 493–514. [Reprinted in Buller, 1999.]

Wright L (1973) Functions. Philosophical Review 82: 139–168. [Reprinted in Buller, 1999.]

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How to Cite close
Buller, David J(Apr 2001) Function and Teleology. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1038/npg.els.0003454]