Internal Perspectivalism: The Solution to Generality Problems About Proper Function and Natural Norms

Biology and Philosophy 35 (33):1-22 (2020)
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In this paper, I argue that what counts as the proper function of a trait is a matter of the de facto perspective that the biological system, itself, possesses on what counts as proper functioning for that trait. Unlike non-perspectival accounts, internal perspectivalism does not succumb to generality problems. But unlike external perspectivalism, internal perspectivalism can provide a fully naturalistic, mind-independent grounding of proper function and natural norms. The attribution of perspectives to biological systems is intended to be neither metaphorical nor anthropomorphic: I do not mean to imply that such systems thereby must possess agency, cognition, intentions, concepts, or mental or psychological states. Instead, such systems provide the grounding for norms of performance when they internally enforce their own standard of (i.e., their own perspective on) what constitutes proper functioning or malfunctioning. By operating with a fixed, determinate level of generality, such systems provide the basis for an account of proper function that is immune to generality problems.

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Jason Winning
University of Toronto, St. George Campus


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