Physical law and mechanistic explanation in the Hodgkin and Huxley model of the action potential

Philosophy of Science 75 (5):1022-1033 (2008)
Hodgkin and Huxley’s model of the action potential is an apparent dream case of covering‐law explanation in biology. The model includes laws of physics and chemistry that, coupled with details about antecedent and background conditions, can be used to derive features of the action potential. Hodgkin and Huxley insist that their model is not an explanation. This suggests either that subsuming a phenomenon under physical laws is insufficient to explain it or that Hodgkin and Huxley were wrong. I defend Hodgkin and Huxley against Weber’s heteronomy thesis and argue that explanations are descriptions of mechanisms. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, Philosophy‐Neuroscience‐Psychology Program, Washington University in St. Louis, One Brookings Drive, Wilson Hall, St. Louis, MO 63130; e‐mail:
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 9,360
External links
  • Through your library Configure
    References found in this work BETA

    No references found.

    Citations of this work BETA
    Ingo Brigandt (2013). Systems Biology and the Integration of Mechanistic Explanation and Mathematical Explanation. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):477-492.
    Carl F. Craver (2010). Prosthetic Models. Philosophy of Science 77 (5):840-851.

    View all 8 citations

    Similar books and articles

    Monthly downloads

    Added to index


    Total downloads

    58 ( #22,310 of 1,089,157 )

    Recent downloads (6 months)

    1 ( #69,735 of 1,089,157 )

    How can I increase my downloads?

    My notes
    Sign in to use this feature

    Start a new thread
    There  are no threads in this forum
    Nothing in this forum yet.