Hajo Greif (2021). Adaptation and its Analogues: Biological Categories for Biosemantics. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 90 (2021): 298–307. Open Access. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.shpsa.2021.
Abstract: “Teleosemantic” or “biosemantic” theories form a strong naturalistic programme in the philosophy of mind and language. They seek to explain the nature of mind and language by recourse to a natural history of “proper functions” as selected-for effects of language- and thought-producing mechanisms. However, they remain vague with respect to the nature of the proposed analogy between selected-for effects on the biological level and phenomena that are not strictly biological, such as reproducible linguistic and cultural forms. This essay critically explores various interpretations of this analogy. It suggests that these interpretations can be explicated by contrasting adaptationist with pluralist readings of the evolutionary concept of adaptation. Among the possible interpretations of the relations between biological adaptations and their analogues in language and culture, the two most relevant are a linear, hierarchical, signalling-based model that takes its cues from the evolution of co-operation and joint intentionality and a mutualistic, pluralist model that takes its cues from mimesis and symbolism in the evolution of human communication. Arguing for the merits of the mutualistic model, the present analysis indicates a path towards an evolutionary pluralist version of biosemantics that will align with theories of cognition as being environmentally “scaffolded”. Language and other cultural forms are partly independent reproducible structures that acquire proper functions of their own while being integrated with organism-based cognitive traits in co-evolutionary fashion.
Acknowledegements: This article started as an improvised contribution to the ‘The Future of Teleosemantics’ conference in Bielefeld, Germany, in 2018. I thank the organisers, especially Peter Schulte, for providing the opportunity to present my first ideas – which matured with the help of the critical comments from the participants, especially Ruth Millikan, and two anonymous reviewers.