No. 17 (2019): Rules without Words: Inquiries into Non-Linguistic Normativities
Section 3. Outside the Human Social World

Norms from Nature. Etiological Functions as Normative Standards

Carlo Burelli
Università del Piemonte Orientale

Published 2019-12-15


  • functions,
  • functionalism,
  • normativity,
  • nature,
  • morality,
  • evolution
  • ...More

How to Cite

Burelli, C. (2019). Norms from Nature. Etiological Functions as Normative Standards. Phenomenology and Mind, (17), 188–197.


When we say that the function of a knife is cutting, we open the door to evaluating knives based on how well they cut. The aim of the paper is to investigate whether functions ground normative standards. This is an exciting question, as it would highlight the important existence of one instance of non-moral normativity and investigate to what degree it involves a trade off with it. Additionally, insofar as it depends on a naturalistic account of functions, functional normativity may be an obvious candidate of non-linguistic normativity that the special issue aims to investigate. The article will first investigate what functions are, providing an etiological account that explains functional attributions for artefacts, as well as biological and social functions. It then discusses how failing to discharge a function results in malfunctioning, not in losing the function. Finally, it argues that functions so understood provide normative standards, independent of moral norms.


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