The Non-mechanistic Option: Defending Dynamical Explanations

British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 71 (3):959-985 (2018)
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This article demonstrates that non-mechanistic, dynamical explanations are a viable approach to explanation in the special sciences. The claim that dynamical models can be explanatory without reference to mechanisms has previously been met with three lines of criticism from mechanists: the causal relevance concern, the genuine laws concern, and the charge of predictivism. I argue, however, that these mechanist criticisms fail to defeat non-mechanistic, dynamical explanation. Using the examples of Haken et al.’s model of bimanual coordination, and Thelen et al.’s dynamical field model of infant perseverative reaching, I show how each mechanist criticism fails once the standards of Woodward’s interventionist framework are applied to dynamical models. An even-handed application of Woodwardian interventionism reveals that dynamical models are capable of producing genuine explanations without appealing to underlying mechanistic details. 1Introduction2Interventionism and Mechanistic Explanation 2.1Causal relevance and ideal interventions2.2Invariance2.3Explanation3Covering-Laws and Dynamical Explanation 3.1Dynamical models3.2Covering-law explanation3.3Prediction4Causal Relevance 4.1The causal relevance concern4.2Intervening on dynamical models4.3Test case I: The Haken–Kelso–Bunz model4.4Test case II: Dynamical field model5Genuine Laws 5.1The genuine laws concern5.2Using invariance in place of laws5.3Test case I: The Haken–Kelso–Bunz model5.4Test case II: Dynamical field model6Prediction 6.1Predictivism6.2Crude and invariant prediction7Interventionist Criticism of the Haken–Kelso–Bunz Model8Dynamical Explanation8Conclusion



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Russell Meyer
Chinese Academy of Sciences, Institute of Philosophy

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Thinking about mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Explaining the Brain.Carl F. Craver - 2007 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.

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