"Moving the Goalposts: Re-Imagining How to Resolve the Functions Debate"

G. Barker (Under Revision)

Abstract: Many commentators have urged a reconciliation of the two dominant accounts of function–the historical account and the causal-role account–via either pluralism or integration. It has been unappreciated, however, that these accounts are motivated by different approaches to the naturalistic treatment of teleology and normativity, and indeed by different conceptions of the aims of naturalism. Reconciling the accounts of function is not possible without resolving the underlying conflict about naturalism. The inadequacy of both views of naturalism can be seen by examining standard but poorly-articulated assumptions about the relationship between natural and artifactual functions. Attention to the implications of biological complexity and the theoretical resources offered by niche construction theory and developmental systems theory (recent enrichments of evolutionary biology) reveals a way to resolve the conflict and give an integrated account of natural and artifactual functions based on the recently re-emergent systems view of function, but this requires rethinking the aims of naturalism.