Making mechanism interesting

Synthese 195 (1):11-33 (2018)
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I note the multitude of ways in which, beginning with the classic paper by Machamer et al., the mechanists have qualify their methodological dicta, and limit the vulnerability of their claims by strategic vagueness regarding their application. I go on to generalize a version of the mechanist requirement on explanations due to Craver and Kaplan :601–627, 2011) in cognitive and systems neuroscience so that it applies broadly across the life sciences in accordance with the view elaborated by Craver and Darden in In Search of Mechanisms. I then go on to explore what ramifications their mechanist requirement on explanations may have for explanatory “dependencies” reported in biology and the special sciences. What this exploration suggests is that mechanism threatens to eliminate instead of underwrite a large number of such “dependencies” reported in higher-levels of biology and the special sciences. I diagnose the source of this threat in mechanism’s demand that explanations identify nested causal differences makers in mechanisms, their components, the components further components, and so forth. Finally, I identify the “love–hate” relationship mechanism must have with functional explanation, and show how it makes mechanism an extremely interesting thesis indeed.



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Alex Rosenberg
Duke University

References found in this work

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.
Explaining the Brain.Carl F. Craver - 2007 - Oxford, GB: Oxford University Press.

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