Journal Article

An Organizational Account of Biological Functions

Matteo Mossio, Cristian Saborido and Alvaro Moreno

in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

Published on behalf of British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Volume 60, issue 4, pages 813-841
Published in print December 2009 | ISSN: 0007-0882
Published online September 2009 | e-ISSN: 1464-3537 | DOI:
An Organizational Account of Biological Functions

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Philosophy of Science
  • Science and Mathematics


Show Summary Details


In this paper, we develop an organizational account that defines biological functions as causal relations subject to closure in living systems, interpreted as the most typical example of organizationally closed and differentiated self-maintaining systems. We argue that this account adequately grounds the teleological and normative dimensions of functions in the current organization of a system, insofar as it provides an explanation for the existence of the function bearer and, at the same time, identifies in a non-arbitrary way the norms that functions are supposed to obey. Accordingly, we suggest that the organizational account combines the etiological and dispositional perspectives in an integrated theoretical framework.


Dispositional Approaches

Etiological Theories

Biological Self-maintenance 4.1

Closure, teleology, and normativity


Organizational differentiation

Functions 5.1

C1: Contributing to the maintenance of the organization


C2: Producing the functional trait

Implications and Objections 6.1

Functional versus useful


Dysfunctions, side effects, and accidental contributions


Proper functions and selected effects




Relation with other ‘unitarian’ approaches


Journal Article.  11432 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Science ; Science and Mathematics

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.