Functions as epistemic highlighters : an engineering account of technical, biological and other functions

P.E. Vermaas, W.N. Houkes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic

Abstract

In this contribution, we explore whether the ICE-theory of technical functions can be used to formulate a unified account of functional discourse in biology and other functional domains. We discern three routes for arriving at a unified account: literally applying the ICE-theory to the other functional domains, taking non-technical functions as ‘as-if’ ICE-technical-functions, and generalising the ICE-theory to the other domains. We argue that the first and second routes are rather unattractive; the ICE-theory presupposes descriptions of using and designing that cannot be literally applied to biology without counterintuitive results. The third route towards unification leads to a unified ICE-like function theory, but one that calls for reservation. The unified ICE-like function presents a general understanding of functional descriptions as descriptions of items by which agents are epistemically highlighting the capacities that explain (successful) realisations of goal-directed patterns designated by (other) agents. Yet this understanding contradicts the usual view that biological functions are features that biological items have independently of any goal-directed patterns designated by agents.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFunctions : selection and mechanisms
EditorsP. Huneman
Place of PublicationDordrecht
PublisherSpringer
Pages213-231
Number of pages251
ISBN (Print)978-94-007-5303-7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Publication series

NameSynthese Library
Volume363
ISSN (Print)0166-6991

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