Study/Discussion Questions on Pettit

1. Pettit appears to grant Elster's "missing mechanism" objection to functional explanations of the existence or persistence of some social practice, yet he winds up endorsing a much wider range of functional explanations than Elster does. Why?

2. What is the point of the story of the ball rolling on a plane between two rows of pegs? What explanatory relevance do the pegs have to the path of the ball?

3. Pettit speaks of "virtual selection". What is that? Does virtual selection require some sort of mechanism?

4. What is it for a social practice to be "resilient"? What is the connection between whether something has a social function and whether it is resilient?

5. Do actual and virtual selection sometimes coincide? Someone (such as D.H.) might argue that virtual selection has a more direct connection to current function than does actual selection. Why?

6. How might one reformulate Harris' explanation of the cow taboo using Pettit's construal of functional explanation? How persuasive is the reformulation?