Chapter 10 Functional Theories
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The Concept of Function
The vast majority of scientific communication theories, as summarized in the previous eight chapters, employ causal processes at the foundation of their explanations. There are, in contrast, a small set of communication theories that utilize a fundamentally different form, the functional explanation. A functional explanation for a given phenomenon is concerned with the part the phenomenon performs in the well-being of some system or the achievement of some goal. Consistent with this description is Achinstein’s (1983) distinction between two general conceptions of what counts as a function. In what Achinstein called the good-consequences doctrine, something performs a function in the context of a system if that something performing that function results in some good consequence either for the system or for something associated with the system. Achinstein’s example is the function of the heart, which is to pump blood around the bodies of animals. The heart performing this function has obvious good consequences to the animal. Achinstein contrasts that example with the consequence of the poison ivy reaction, which is to make the skin itch uncomfortably. As no good consequence emerges ← 313 | 314 → from this reaction, it would not be described as performing any discernible function.
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