Les biologistes ont-ils besoin du concept de fonction ? Perspective philosophique


fr Comptes Rendus Palevol 5 (3-4) - Pages 479-487

Published on 30 April 2006

This article is a part of the thematic issue One hundred years after Marey: some aspects of Functional Morphology today

Do biologists need the concept of function? A philosophical perspective

Functional ascriptions are problematic from the point of scientific methodology: they seem to explain causes from their effects. Contemporary philosophers of science have proposed to solve this problem by showing that functional statements can be translated into ordinary causal statements with no loss of content. The paper examines the successive solutions proposed by Ernest Nagel (1961), the ‘etiological’ theories (Wright1973, and other versions of the etiological theory), and the ‘systemic theory’ (Cummins 1975). These conceptions are examined in the perspective of both their coherence and their signification for practicing biologists.


Biology of proximate causes, Biology of ultimate causes, Function, Philosophy of science, Teleology, Etiological theory, Systemic theory

Download full article in PDF format Order a reprint