Constitutive relevance & mutual manipulability revisited

Synthese 199 (3-4):8807-8828 (2021)
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An adequate understanding of the ubiquitous practice of mechanistic explanation requires an account of what Craver termed “constitutive relevance.” Entities or activities are constitutively relevant to a phenomenon when they are parts of the mechanism responsible for that phenomenon. Craver’s mutual manipulability account extended Woodward’s account of manipulationist counterfactuals to analyze how interlevel experiments establish constitutive relevance. Critics of MM argue that applying Woodward’s account to this philosophical problem conflates causation and constitution, thus rendering the account incoherent. These criticisms, we argue, arise from failing to distinguish the semantic, epistemic, and metaphysical aspects of the problem of constitutive relevance. In distinguishing these aspects of the problem and responding to these critics accordingly, we amend MM into a refined epistemic criterion, the “matched interlevel experiments” account. Further, we explain how this epistemological thesis is grounded in the plausible metaphysical thesis that constitutive relevance is causal betweenness.

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Author Profiles

Carl F. Craver
Washington University in St. Louis
Stuart Glennan
Butler University
Mark Povich
University of Rochester

Citations of this work

Minds in the Metaverse: Extended Cognition Meets Mixed Reality.Paul Smart - 2022 - Philosophy and Technology 35 (4):1–29.
Six Theses on Mechanisms and Mechanistic Science.Stuart Glennan, Phyllis Illari & Erik Weber - 2022 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 53 (2):143-161.
Philosophy of Developmental Biology.Marcel Weber - 2022 - Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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References found in this work

Every thing must go: metaphysics naturalized.James Ladyman & Don Ross - 2007 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Don Ross, David Spurrett & John G. Collier.
Explaining the brain: mechanisms and the mosaic unity of neuroscience.Carl F. Craver - 2007 - New York : Oxford University Press,: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press.
Thinking about mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.

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