Agential Teleosemantics

Dissertation, Autonomous University of Barcelona (2022)
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The field of the philosophy of biology is flourishing in its aim to evaluate and rethink the view inherited from the previous century ---the Modern Synthesis. Different research areas and theories have come to the fore in the last decades in order to account for different biological phenomena that, in the first instance, fall beyond the explanatory scope of the Modern Synthesis. This thesis is anchored and motivated by this revolt in the philosophy of biology. The central target in this context is the possibility of naturalizing teleology, a classical nightmare for the history of biology itself. This requires, principally, understanding the causes of teleological explanations without assuming an unfashioned backward causation of sorts. As the riddles of teleological explanations are about their temporal dimension, I analyze different temporal scales of biological processes: evolutionary, developmental, and physiological. The first one is the one defended in the context of the Modern Synthesis. As expected, one of the aims of this thesis is to evaluate the adequacy of an evolutionary account of teleological explanation. The scrutiny is negative. Evolutionary explanations in the context of the Modern Synthesis lack the necessary causal roots to naturalize teleology. Concerning the physiological scale, a long tradition pushed up by Kant and the organicist movement in the 20th century allows us to better understand how teleological explanations can be naturalized in physiological process. The key notions in this temporal scale are self-organization and the recursive, looped character of physiological process. While the physiological scale may be suitably accounted by contemporaries views, such as Autonomous Systems Theory, different central teleological phenomena remain unexplained from a purely physiological perspective. In particular, different issues concerning the (adaptive) construction of organism ---such as plasticity, robustness, variation, novelty, inheritance--- deserve an ontogenetic analysis. The principal aim of this thesis is to provide a theory of teleological development that falls beyond the Modern Synthesis' framework and is prompted by different insights from the history of biology. I call it Agential Teleosemantics. It rests on two central pillars. First, that developmental processes, beyond any gene-centered stance, can be understood in informational terms; i.e. developmental processes are about the interaction of developmental resources conveying biological information. The second ingredient is agentivity, namely the idea that development is regulated by an agentive system according to the adaptiveness of the phenotypic outcomes produced. The role of agency in Agential Teleosemantic is equivalent to the role of genes in the Modern Synthesis: it is responsible for explaining the order and the adaptive complexity in the living realm. The second target of this thesis regards the possibility of naturalizing intentional explanations in cognitive science. The central project involved in such an aim is known as teleosemantics. Classical teleosemantics however is etiological: it explains the teleofunctions of representational systems in terms of evolutionary processes. The different disputes in the contemporary philosophy of biology provide two insights to analyze teleosemantics in cognitive science. First, the challenges against the Modern Synthesis must be extended to the evolutionary approach of etiological teleosemantics. Second, as Agential Teleosemantics suggests an alternative source for teleofunctions ---ontogeny, I offer an attempt to integrate Agential Teleosemantics into cognitive science in order to provide an alternative teleosemantic project to understand intentional explanations in cognitive science.

Author's Profile

Tiago Rama
Universidad de La Rep├║blica de Uruguay


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