Mechanistic Explanation without Mechanisms

Abstract

We provide an account of mechanistic representation and explanation that has several advantages over previous proposals. In our view, explaining mechanistically is not simply giving an explanation of a mechanism. Rather, an explanation is mechanistic because of particular relations that hold between a mechanical representation, or model, and the target of explanation. Under this interpretation, mechanistic explanation is possible even when the explanatory target is not a mechanism. We argue that taking this view is not only coherent and plausible, it gives a more sophisticated view of the relationship between mechanical models and their targets. This allows us to address some ambiguities within the mechanist framework, and delivers a more intuitive way to interpret scientists' use of the term "mechanism".

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2009-08-12

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Brett Calcott
University of Sydney

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