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Rethinking Mechanistic Explanation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 January 2022

Stuart Glennan*
Affiliation:
Butler University
*
Send requests for reprints to the author, Department of Philosophy and Religion, 4600 Sunset Ave., Butler University, Indianapolis, IN 46208–3487; sglennan@butler.edu.

Abstract

Philosophers of science typically associate the causal-mechanical view of scientific explanation with the work of Railton and Salmon. In this paper I shall argue that the defects of this view arise from an inadequate analysis of the concept of mechanism. I contrast Salmon's account of mechanisms in terms of the causal nexus with my own account of mechanisms, in which mechanisms are viewed as complex systems. After describing these two concepts of mechanism, I show how the complex-systems approach avoids certain objections to Salmon's account of causal-mechanical explanation. I conclude by discussing how mechanistic explanations can provide understanding by unification.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Philosophy of Science Association

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