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Robust Processes and Teleological Language

Birch, Jonathan (2012) Robust Processes and Teleological Language. European Journal for Philosophy of Science. ISSN 1879-4912

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Abstract

I consider some hitherto unexplored examples of teleological language in the sciences. In explicating these examples, I aim to show (a) that such language is not the sole preserve of the biological sciences, and (b) that not all such talk is reducible to the ascription of functions. In chemistry and biochemistry, scientists explaining molecular rearrangements and protein folding talk informally of molecules rearranging “in order to” maximize stability. Evolutionary biologists, meanwhile, often speak of traits evolving “in order to” optimize some fitness-relevant variable. I argue that in all three contexts such locutions are best interpreted as shorthands for more detailed explanations which, were we to spell them out in full, would show that the relevant process would robustly converge on the same end-point despite variation in initial conditions. This suggests that, in biology, such talk presupposes a strong form of adaptationism. The upshot is that such shorthands may be more applicable in the physical sciences than the biological.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Birch, Jonathanj.birch2@lse.ac.uk0000-0001-7517-4759
Keywords: teleology, function, biology, chemistry, thermodynamics, adaptationism
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
Specific Sciences > Chemistry
Depositing User: Dr Jonathan Birch
Date Deposited: 24 Jun 2020 01:47
Last Modified: 24 Jun 2020 01:47
Item ID: 17364
Journal or Publication Title: European Journal for Philosophy of Science
Publisher: Springer
Official URL: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13194-0...
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
Specific Sciences > Biology > Molecular Biology/Genetics
Specific Sciences > Chemistry
Date: 2012
ISSN: 1879-4912
URI: https://philsci-archive-dev.library.pitt.edu/id/eprint/17364

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