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Functional Explanation and Functional EquivalentsThe legitimacy of functional explanations in biology is threatened by a problem first identified by Hempel: the problem of functional equivalents. In order for the presence of a trait to be explained by its function, the function would have to explain why that very trait is present and not some other functionally equivalent trait. But it seems that functions alone cannot meet this explanatory demand. I argue that this is a problem for both deductive-nomological and etiological interpretations of functional explanation. Some proposed solutions are evaluated before settling on a dual model of adaptive explanation and design explanation.
Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research