What is menstruation for? On the projectibility of functional predicates in menstruation research

Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 33 (4):719-732 (2002)
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In 1993, biologist Margie Profet captured the attention of the popular press with the publication of her radical thesis: menstruation has a function. Traditional theories, she claims, typically view menstruation as a functionless by-product of cyclic flux. The details of Profet's functional account are similarly radical: she argues that menstruation has been naturally selected to defend the female reproductive tract from sperm-borne pathogens. There are a number of weaknesses in Profet's evolutionary analysis. However, I focus on a set of pragmatic problems that arise prior to any details of her evolutionary account. In arguing for the importance of pragmatic considerations, I draw from the linguistic analyses of Nelson Goodman. I conclude that critical investigation of the evolutionary details of Profet's pathogen defense account will be more feasible if and when biologists more frequently feature the female system of pathogen defense in their inductive generalisations. The system needs to be better entrenched before its functional components, such as menstruation, can be thoroughly investigated.

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Sharyn Clough
Oregon State University


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