Explaining Human Freedom and Dignity Mechanistically

Abstract
Mechanistic explanation is the dominant approach to explanation in the life sciences, but it has been challenged as incompatible with a conception of humans as agents whose capacity for self-direction endows them with freedom and dignity. We argue that the mechanical philosophy, properly construed, has sufficient resources to explain how such characteristics can arise in a material world. Biological mechanisms must be regarded as active, not only reactive, and as organized so as to maintain themselves far from thermodynamic equilibrium. Notions from systems biology make key contributions, particularly Gánti’s chemoton, Ruiz-Mirazo and Moreno’s basic autonomy, and Barandiaran and Moreno’s adaptive autonomous agents. The reconstrual is then extended to mental life by conceiving of cognitive mechanisms as control components in inherently active systems, as illustrated in models offered by Randall Beer and Cees van Leeuwen
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