Functions in Basic Formal Ontology

Applied ontology 11 (2):103-128 (2016)
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The notion of function is indispensable to our understanding of distinctions such as that between being broken and being in working order (for artifacts) and between being diseased and being healthy (for organisms). A clear account of the ontology of functions and functioning is thus an important desideratum for any top-level ontology intended for application to domains such as engineering or medicine. The benefit of using top-level ontologies in applied ontology can only be realized when each of the categories identified and defined by a top-level ontology is integrated with the others in a coherent fashion. Basic Formal Ontology (BFO) has from the beginning included function as one of its categories, exploiting a version of the etiological account of function that is framed at a level of generality sufficient to accommodate both biological and artifactual functions. This account has been subjected to a series of criticisms and refinements. We here articulate BFO’s account of function, provide some reasons for favoring it over competing views, and defend it against objections.

Author Profiles

Andrew Spear
Grand Valley State University
Barry Smith
State University of New York, Buffalo


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