Journal Article

Functional Explanation and Virtual Selection

Philip Pettit

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 47, issue 2, pages 291-302
Published in print June 1996 | ISSN: 0007-0882
e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjps/47.2.291
Functional Explanation and Virtual Selection

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Invoking its social function can explain why we find a certain functional trait or institution only if we can identify a mechanism whereby the playing of the function connects with the explanandum. That is the main claim in the missing-mechanism critique of functionalism. Is it correct? Yes, if functional explanation is meant to make sense of the actual presence of the trait or institution. No, if it is meant to make sense of why the trait or institution is resilient: why we can rely on it to survive various contingencies. The lesson? Social functionalism should be taken, and may have been taken by its founders, as a programme for explaining resilience.

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Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

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