Functional Explanation and Virtual Selection

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39 Scopus citations


Invoking its social function can explain why we find a certain functional trait or institution only if we can identify a mechanism whereby the playing of the function connects with the explanandum. That is the main claim in the missing-mechanism critique of functionalism. Is it correct? Yes, if functional explanation is meant to make sense of the actual presence of the trait or institution. No, if it is meant to make sense of why the trait or institution is resilient: why we can rely on it to survive various contingencies. The lesson? Social functionalism should be taken, and may have been taken by its founders, as a programme for explaining resilience. 1 Introduction 2 Functionalism and the missing-mechanism argument 3 Functional explanations that avoid the argument 4 A significant research programme.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)291-302
Number of pages12
JournalBritish Journal for the Philosophy of Science
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1996
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Philosophy
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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