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Function Statements

Peter Achinstein
Philosophy of Science
Vol. 44, No. 3 (Sep., 1977), pp. 341-367
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/187388
Page Count: 27
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Function Statements
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Abstract

An examination of difficulties in three standard accounts of functions leads to the suggestion that sentences of the form "the function of x is to do y" are used to make a variety of different claims, all of which involve a means-end relationship and the idea of design, or use, or benefit. The analysis proposed enables us to see what is right and also wrong with accounts that analyze the meaning of function statements in terms of good consequences, goals, and etiological explanation. It also enables us to show that function sentences can be used in providing various types of explanations, including, in certain cases, noncausal explanations of the presence of the item with the function.

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