Functions and their Appropriate Rate of Performance

Justin Garson (here is his old webpage; he is moving to a new job at Hunter College/CUNY) and I have written a paper in which we introduce a novel version of the Biostatistical Theory of functions (primarily due to Christopher Boorse) that accounts for the phenomenon that functions must be performed at appropriate rates in appropriate situations.  To my knowledge, this is the first theory of function that is able to do that.  (The paper is written as a response to a recent paper by Elselijn Kingma in BJPS.)

As always, comments are invited and appreciated.  The paper can be accessed Abstract:
We respond to a recent critique by Kingma (2010) of Christopher Boorse’s Biostatistical Theory (BST) of functions by sketching a novel and improved version of BST, which provides the first naturalistic explication of the phenomenon that functions ought to be performed at appropriate rates in appropriate situations.  Roughly, our theory maintains that (i) functions are typical contributions to survival or reproduction (when a trait contributes to survival and reproduction), (ii) situations appropriate for the performance of a function are typical situations in which a trait contributes to survival or reproduction, (iii) appropriate rates of functioning are rates that are adequate contributions to survival and reproduction (in situations appropriate for the performance of that function), and (iv) dysfunction is the inability to perform a function at an appropriate rate in appropriate situations. 


  1. Joshua Stern

    No use of the term “teleology” or mention of Ruth Garrett Millikan?

    Most especially in complex domains like biology, I hold the arguments about normativism versus naturalism to be incoherent. It’s not whether illness is normative, it’s whether “illness” is normative, and even that question, whether the meaning of every and any word is normative, is tricky enough.

  2. Bill

    I think where the normative enters the final discussion given in the paper is in the word ‘appropriate” which does carry a kind of normative weight.

    I agree that that kind of normativity is unavoidable in biology.

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