(Re)Conceptualizing Function and Goal-Directedness

Coordinator: James DiFrisco, KU Leuven

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A cuttlefish swims past a school of small fish. Photo by Whitcomberd, Adobe Stock
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The nature of biological functions and the status of goal-directedness in living systems comprise two of the oldest and most conceptually demanding themes in biology. While a large body of conceptual work has illuminated different senses of function and multiple ways to understand goal-directedness, a lack of consensus about functional ascription and operationalizing these concepts for empirical measurement continues to challenge researchers. Interdisciplinary configurations of philosophers and biologists are positioned to offer novel insights on these longstanding challenges. Distinctive conceptions of function across disciplines and novel theoretical perspectives on what it means for a living system or its parts to be goal-directed provide new foundations for scientific investigation into purposive natural phenomena.

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