Workshop III: Functions, Norms, Society

25th/26th of January 2018

Past Events


02/2017 Workshop „The Metaphysics of Social Functions“ (Essen)

06/2017 Workshop „Artifactual, Biological and Social Functions — Historical and Contemporary Perspectives“ (Bern)

09/2017 Workshop „Functions, Norms, Society“ (Berlin)

Workshop II: Artifactual, Biological, and Social Functions. Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

12th/13th June 2017

Venue: Universität Bern, Schanzeneckerstrasse 1, Room A 201

Monday 12th June:
11:00 Welcome + Introduction
11:30 – 12:30 Markus Wild: From Biological Functions to Social Functions?
12:30 – 14:30 Lunch Break
14:30 – 15:30 Rebekka Hufendiek: Demarcation Problems? Biological and Social Functions
15:30 – 16:00 Coffee Break
16:00 – 17:00 Matthieu Queloz: Functional Explanations and Genealogical Explanations
17:00 – 18:00 Daniel James: Social Organisms and Social Evolution: The Emergence of Social Functionalism in 19th Century European Philosophy and Sociology
19:00 Dinner

Tuesday 13th June:
10:00 – 11:30 Beth Preston: Social Functions as a Function Kind: Categorizing Functions and the Function of Categorization
11:30-12:00 Coffee Break
12:00-13:00 Amrei Bahr: Function Without Intention? Artifact Functions and the Social
13:00 – 14:30 Lunch Break
14:30 – 15:30 Johannes Achatz: An Instrumental Analysis of Artifact Functions and Normativity Concerning Synthetic Cells

Participation is free but there is a limited amount of seats, so please register:

Organized by Amrei Bahr, Rebekka Hufendiek, Daniel James, Andreas Müller, Markus Wild and the DFG-Research Network Social Functions (


Lecture Series “The Philosophy of Social Functions“


Lecture III

Title: „Ideology reconsidered: a functional perspective“
Speaker: David Livingstone Smith (University of New England)
Organization: Mari Mikkola

22th of May 2017, 19:00-20:30
Room to-be-confirmed.
Attendance is free, registration is not required.
For inquiries, please contact Mari Mikkola (

Abstract: The literature on ideology is extensive, confusing, and riddled with disagreements, the most basic of which concern the question of what exactly ideology is.  In this talk, I focus on just one mainstream conception of ideology that is sometimes referred to as the functional conception. According to the functional approach, ideologies should be understood as beliefs (and their associated practices) that have the function of bringing about or sustaining the oppression of certain social groups by others. But this seemingly transparent definition conceals a major ambiguity, because there exist two views of what functions are. According to the causal account, the function of a thing is what it does, and according to the teleological approach the function of a thing is what it is for. It follows from this that there are really two functional conceptions of ideology: a causal one and a teleological one.  I tease out the entailments of each of these and, drawing on work in the philosophy of biology, I argue that the teleological conception of ideology is preferable to its causal alternative.

Speaker: David Livingstone Smith is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of London, Kings College, where he worked on Freud’s philosophy of mind and psychology. His current research is focused on dehumanization, race, propaganda, and related topics. David’s most recent book „Less Than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave and Exterminate Others“ (2011) was awarded the 2012 Anisfield-Wolf award for nonfiction. Cambridge University Press published his edited collection „How Biology Shapes Philosophy“ earlier this year, and he is currently working on a book entitled „Making Monsters: The Uncanny Power of Dehumanization“, to be published by Harvard University Press.  David speaks widely in both academic and nonacademic settings, including the 2012 G20 economic summit, where he spoke on dehumanization and mass violence. His work has been featured extensively in national and international media.


Lecture II

Title: “With this O-ring I thee wed…” Pathways from technical functions to social functions
Speaker: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Wybo Houkes (Eindhoven)
Organization: Amrei Bahr

15.6.2016, 6-8pm
ZiF (Centre for Interdisciplinary Research) Bielefeld, Long Table Room
Attendance is free, registration is not required.
After the talk, there will be a wine reception.
For inquiries in relation to the lecture, please contact Amrei Bahr (

Abstract: In this presentation, I take an unusual approach towards laying the groundwork for a theory of social functions. Rather than discussing social functions directly, I study where application of a theory developed for another domain – that of technical artefacts – fails and succeeds. I argue that this clarifies in part what is expected of a theory of social functions, and that these expectations may diverge to such an extent that no single theory can meet them. First, I outline the theory of technical functions (presented in full detail in Technical Functions, Springer 2010) and its method of construction. Then, I discuss the minor successes and major shortcomings of a direct application of this theory to social functions, and the usefulness of taking an indirect application, namely of its method of construction.

Lecture I

Kick-off event Lecture Series: „The Philosophy of Social Functions“ (DFG Network: Social Functions) and Wine Reception at Humboldt University, Berlin

Title: „What’s the Difference Between Money and Gender? Social Construction, Critique and Change“.
Speaker: Prof. Frank Hindriks (Groningen/Helsinki)
Organization: Mari Mikkola

3.2.2016, 6-8pm
Humboldt University Berlin, Room 2249a (HU Main Building)
Attendance is free, registration is not required.
After the talk, there will be a wine reception.
For inquiries in relation to the lecture, please contact Mari Mikkola (

Abstract: Social construction claims are often, but not always, critical of the status quo. Social constructs depend on attitudes and are as such amenable to change. I argue that, when this message is intended to correct contrary beliefs, social construction claims typically come with the conversational implicature that change is desirable. False beliefs about social constructs, in particular mismatches between what they are and what they are taken to be, have been argued to pose problems for reference to and for the metaphysics of social kinds (Mallon 2015). The key to my solution is the idea that false beliefs need not block the effects that attitudes have on people’s behavior, even if their content is inconsistent with the process of classificatory looping that in fact constitutes the constructs. Undermining those beliefs is, however, an important step towards social change.