The Objectivity of Organizational Functions

  • Samuel Cusimano
  • Beckett SternerEmail author
Regular Article


We critique the organizational account of biological functions by showing how its basis in the closure of constraints fails to be objective. While the account treats constraints as objective features of physical systems, the number and relationship of potential constraints are subject to potentially arbitrary redescription by investigators. For example, we show that self-maintaining systems such as candle flames can realize closure on a more thorough analysis of the case, contradicting the claim that these “simple” systems lack functional organization. This also raises problems for Moreno and Mossio’s associated theory of biological autonomy, which asserts that living beings are distinguished by their possession of a closed system of constraints that channel and regulate their metabolic processes.


Biological autonomy Feed forward loop Network motifs Constraints Biological individuality Biological function 



We would like to thank the University of Michigan and its Society of Fellows program for providing us with the time and support to collaborate on this project, and Erin Barringer-Sterner for help designing our figures. We also thank the referees and editors for their detailed and constructive feedback, which helped improve the manuscript substantially.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of MedicineOhio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  2. 2.School of Life SciencesArizona State UniversityTempeUSA

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