Quiz #6: Functions and Functional Explanation

Part I:  Circle T or F depending on whether the sentence that follows is true or false (85 points, 5 points each).

T          1.         A necessary condition for F to be a function of X is for X to be a cause of F.

F          2.         Harris maintains that Hindu cow love is senseless.

Harris says that cow love plays social functions.

F          3.         Harris maintains that religious taboos such as the taboo on eating cows have no real effects on people's behavior.

Harris not is not clear, but he says explicitly that nobody can deny that cow love affects what people do.

F          4.         Since (as Cohen points out) legal rights determine many features of the relations of production, Cohen maintains that one should reject Marx's view that the relations of production determine the ideological superstructure.

he argues instead that one should understand Marx as making a functional rather than a causal claim

F          5.         Suppose that X has a function F.  Then, according to Cohen, the form of a functional explanation is "X occurred because F occurred."

T          6.         According to Cohen, a "consequence law" takes roughly the form "X's causing F causes X's presence or persistence."

T          7.         Cohen maintains that we can have good reasons to believe consequence laws even if we do not know the mechanism by which the consequences of X lead to the presence or persistence of X.

T          8.         Elster maintains, in contrast to Cohen, that functional explanations are acceptable only if one knows the mechanism by which the consequences of X lead to the presence or persistence of X.

F          9.         The only known mechanism by which the consequences of X lead to the presence or persistence of X is some form of natural selection.

There is also intentional design.

F          10.       According to Cohen, X has the function F only if F functionally explains the presence or persistence of X.

Cohen insists that something can be functional without being functionally explained.

T          11.       According to Boorse, an account of the contributions that X makes to some goal of a system in which X appears is an "operational explanation."

F          12.       According to Boorse, it is false to maintain (of Dan Hausman, for example) that "his nose functions as an eyeglass support."

He allows that the nose may function as an eyeglass support while denying that that is the function of the nose.

T          13.       According to Boorse, functions are purely and simply contributions to goals.

T          14.       Boorse maintains that the questions, "What is the function of X in system S?" and "What explains the presence of X in system S" may have different answers.

F          15.       Pettit maintains that "virtual selection" may explain why some feature X that has a function F in a system S is present in the system.

Virtual selection does not explain why X is present, just as the pegs don't explain the path of the ball.  Virtual selection explains instead resilience.

T          16.       Pettit agrees with Elster that functional explanations for the presence of social features are baseless unless they specify some mechanism.

T          17.       Pettit maintains that the function of some social feature X may help explain the "resilience" of X.

Part II (15 points) Discuss briefly what a methodological individualist should think about functional explanation.


Though there are lots of different formulations of methological individualism, functional explanations are not individualist explanations on any of these, since they refer to societies and social goals.  So there are grounds for suspicion.  Yet most methodological individualists do not reject non-individualistic explanations.  They seek instead more fundamental explanations.  So they might agree with Elster that functional explanations are satisfactory only when individualistic mechanisms are specified.