Functions in the biological realm - The function of language as a case study
Eran Asoulin
March 2018

I argue that talk of functions in the biological realm is a theory-internal matter, and so nothing has its function essentially. Functions are ascribed to suit the explanatory purposes of particular theories. This is in contrast to functions of human-made objects, where functions are defined by reference to the intentions of the designer. This is not to say that there are no criteria by which to judge what a function is: rather, I want to suggest that the criteria of functional ascription are almost entirely theory-internal. A revealing example of the theory-internal nature of functional ascriptions is the function of language. I argue that what one sees as the function of language is dependent on the explanatory purposes of one’s theory, so that it is perfectly reasonable for, say, evolutionary biology and generative linguistics to have different conceptions of what the function of language is.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/003726
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: November 2017 draft
keywords: functions, biological functions, function of language, scientific explanations, teleological explanations, syntax
previous versions: v1 [November 2017]
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