Paul Sheldon Davies

Paul Sheldon Davies is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the College of William and Mary.

  • Norms of Nature

    Norms of Nature

    Naturalism and the Nature of Functions

    Paul Sheldon Davies

    The components of living systems strike us as functional-as for the sake of certain ends—and as endowed with specific norms of performance. The mammalian eye, for example, has the function of perceiving and processing light, and possession of this property tempts us to claim that token eyes are supposed to perceive and process light. That is, we tend to evaluate the performance of token eyes against the norm described in the attributed functional property. Hence the norms of nature.

    What, then, are the norms of nature? Whence do they arise? Out of what natural properties or relations are they constituted? In Norms of Nature, Paul Sheldon Davies argues against the prevailing view that natural norms are constituted out of some form of historical success—usually success in natural selection. He defends the view that functions are nothing more than effects that contribute to the exercise of some more general systemic capacity. Natural functions exist insofar as the components of natural systems contribute to the exercise of systemic capacities. This is so irrespective of the system's history. Even if the mammalian eye had never been selected for, it would have the function of perceiving and processing light, because those are the effects that contribute to the exercise of the visual system. The systemic approach to conceptualizing natural norms, claims Davies, is superior to the historical approach in several important ways. Especially significant is that it helps us understand how the attribution of functions within the life sciences coheres with the methods and ontology of the natural sciences generally.

    • Hardcover $11.75 £9.99
    • Paperback $5.75 £4.99


  • Functions in Biological and Artificial Worlds

    Functions in Biological and Artificial Worlds

    Comparative Philosophical Perspectives

    Ulrich Krohs and Peter Kroes

    Investigations into the relationship between organism and artifacts from the perspective of functionality.

    The notion of function is an integral part of thinking in both biology and technology; biological organisms and technical artifacts are both ascribed functionality. Yet the concept of function is notoriously obscure (with problematic issues regarding the normative and the descriptive nature of functions, for example) and demands philosophical clarification. So too the relationship between biological organisms and technical artifacts: although entities of one kind are often described in terms of the other—as in the machine analogy for biological organism or the evolutionary account of technological development—the parallels between the two break down at certain points. This volume takes on both issues and examines the relationship between organisms and artifacts from the perspective of functionality. Believing that the concept of function is the root of an accurate understanding of biological organisms, technical artifacts, and the relation between the two, the contributors take an integrative approach, offering philosophical analyses that embrace both biological and technical fields of function ascription. They aim at a better understanding not only of the concept of function but also of the similarities and differences between organisms and artifacts as they relate to functionality. Their ontological, epistemological, and phenomenological comparisons will clarify problems that are central to the philosophies of both biology and technology.

    Contributors Paul Sheldon Davies, Maarten Franssen, Wybo Houkes, Yoshinobu Kitamura, Peter Kroes, Ulrich Krohs, Tim Lewens, Andrew Light, Françoise Longy, Peter McLaughlin, Riichiro Mizoguchi, Mark Perlman, Beth Preston, Giacomo Romano, Marzia Soavi, Pieter E. Vermaas

    • Hardcover $11.75 £9.99
  • Distributed Cognition and the Will

    Distributed Cognition and the Will

    Individual Volition and Social Context

    Don Ross, David Spurrett, Harold Kincaid, and G. Lynn Stephens

    Philosophers and behavioral scientists discuss what, if anything, of the traditional concept of individual conscious will can survive recent scientific discoveries that human decision-making is distributed across different brain processes and through the social environment.

    Recent scientific findings about human decision making would seem to threaten the traditional concept of the individual conscious will. The will is threatened from “below” by the discovery that our apparently spontaneous actions are actually controlled and initiated from below the level of our conscious awareness, and from “above” by the recognition that we adapt our actions according to social dynamics of which we are seldom aware. In Distributed Cognition and the Will, leading philosophers and behavioral scientists consider how much, if anything, of the traditional concept of the individual conscious will survives these discoveries, and they assess the implications for our sense of freedom and responsibility. The contributors all take science seriously, and they are inspired by the idea that apparent threats to the cogency of the idea of will might instead become the basis of its reemergence as a scientific subject. They consider macro-scale issues of society and culture, the micro-scale dynamics of the mind/brain, and connections between macro-scale and micro-scale phenomena in the self-guidance and self-regulation of personal behavior.

    Contributors George Ainslie, Wayne Christensen, Andy Clark, Paul Sheldon Davies, Daniel C. Dennett, Lawrence A. Lengbeyer, Dan Lloyd, Philip Pettit, Don Ross, Tamler Sommers, Betsy Sparrow, Mariam Thalos, Jeffrey B. Vancouver, Daniel M. Wegner, Tadeusz W. Zawidzki

    • Hardcover $15.75 £12.99
    • Paperback $8.75 £6.99