Mechanism and Biological Explanation

Philosophy of Science 78 (4):533-557 (2011)
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Abstract

This article argues that the basic account of mechanism and mechanistic explanation, involving sequential execution of qualitatively characterized operations, is itself insufficient to explain biological phenomena such as the capacity of living organisms to maintain themselves as systems distinct from their environment. This capacity depends on cyclic organization, including positive and negative feedback loops, which can generate complex dynamics. Understanding cyclically organized mechanisms with complex dynamics requires coordinating research directed at decomposing mechanisms into parts and operations with research using computational models to recompose mechanisms and determine their dynamic behavior. This coordinated endeavor yields dynamic mechanistic explanations.

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William Bechtel
University of California, San Diego

Citations of this work

The New Mechanical Philosophy.Stuart Glennan - 2017 - Oxford: Oxford University Press.
The Ontic Account of Scientific Explanation.Carl F. Craver - 2014 - In Marie I. Kaiser, Oliver R. Scholz, Daniel Plenge & Andreas Hüttemann (eds.), Explanation in the Special Sciences: The Case of Biology and History. Springer Verlag. pp. 27-52.
The Metaphysics of Constitutive Mechanistic Phenomena.Marie I. Kaiser & Beate Krickel - 2017 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 68 (3).
Causal Concepts in Biology: How Pathways Differ from Mechanisms and Why It Matters.Lauren N. Ross - 2021 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 72 (1):131-158.
II—James Woodward: Mechanistic Explanation: Its Scope and Limits.James Woodward - 2013 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 87 (1):39-65.

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References found in this work

Thinking about mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Explanation: a mechanist alternative.William Bechtel & Adele Abrahamsen - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 36 (2):421-441.

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