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Evolutionary TheoryA Hierarchical Perspective$
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Niles Eldredge, Telmo Pievani, Emanuele Serrelli, and Ilya Tëmkin

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226426051

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226426198.001.0001

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Three Approaches to the Teleological and Normative Aspects of Ecological Functions

Three Approaches to the Teleological and Normative Aspects of Ecological Functions

(p.103) Chapter 5 Three Approaches to the Teleological and Normative Aspects of Ecological Functions
Evolutionary Theory

Gregory J. Cooper

Charbel N. El-Hani

Nei F. Nunes-Neto

University of Chicago Press

Ecosystem function is the central use of function in ecology. In this work we examine the light that can be shed on ecosystem functions by three philosophical analyses of the concept of function: the causal role theory, the teleological theory, and the organizational theory. While the causal role theory provides a natural explication of many of the uses of ecosystem function, it does not underwrite either the teleological or normative aspects of functional discourse. The etiological approach has the potential to account for the teleology and normativity of ecosystem function but presupposes that ecosystem properties are, in some sense, shaped by natural selection. It is not obvious that this presupposition can be satisfied. The organizational approach has much in common with the causal role approach and also offers an alternative strategy for grounding teleology and normativity. Perhaps the biggest challenge for the organizational approach stems from the necessity to reach a historical account of how functional systems come into existence in the first place that is in sufficient agreement with a Darwinian understanding of evolution. Given the strengths and weaknesses of the various approaches, we suggest that a pluralistic approach might have some attraction.

Keywords:   functional diversity, ecosystem functions, ecological functions, natural selection, hierarchy, closure of constraints, organization, etiology, causal role, pluralism

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