Mechanistic explanation in engineering science

European Journal for Philosophy of Science 5 (3):349-375 (2015)
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In this paper I apply the mechanistic account of explanation to engineering science. I discuss two ways in which this extension offers further development of the mechanistic view. First, functional individuation of mechanisms in engineering science proceeds by means of two distinct sub types of role function, behavior function and effect function, rather than role function simpliciter. Second, it offers refined assessment of the explanatory power of mechanistic explanations. It is argued that in the context of malfunction explanations of technical systems, two key desiderata for mechanistic explanations, ‘completeness and specificity’ and ‘abstraction’, pull in opposite directions. I elaborate a novel explanatory desideratum to accommodate this explanatory context, dubbed ‘local specificity and global abstraction’, and further argue that it also holds for mechanistic explanations of malfunctions in the biological domain. The overall result is empirically-informed understanding of mechanistic explanation in engineering science, thus contributing to the ongoing project of understanding mechanistic explanation in novel or relatively unexplored domains. I illustrate these claims in terms of reverse engineering and malfunction explanations in engineering science



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References found in this work

Depth: An Account of Scientific Explanation.Michael Strevens - 2008 - Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
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.
Functional analysis.Robert E. Cummins - 1975 - Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.

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