The distinction between biological function and dysfunction is normative: An organ or a macromolecule is supposed to perform its function (pumping blood, cleaving phosphate groups etc.). If it does not, something went wrong.
Such normative functional talk in biology is puzzling insofar as it is generally accepted that nature is not normative. Functional realists therefore assume that functions form an exception from the non-normativity of nature. They reconstruct functions as evolutionary established norms. However, biological use of the term “function” is diverse. The concept varies with the theoretical framework and with experimental contexts. Functional realism cannot catch them all. What are the alternatives?
The workshop explores the relativity of functions and the options of pluralist and instrumentalist approaches to functions. On which theoretical framings and experimental practices do function ascriptions depend? What does “function” mean in different contexts, which concepts of functions are used? How can function ascriptions be true and/or objective if classical realism is no longer an option?
Human biologist Katja Nowick (FU Berlin) and a philosopher of biology Ulrich Krohs (WWU Münster) present short inputs on relative and instrumental functions from the empirical and philosophical perspective, respectively. We discuss with the participants prospects and problems of pluralist and instrumentalist approaches.