Ephemeral mechanisms and historical explanation

Erkenntnis 72 (2):251 - 266 (2010)
Abstract
While much of the recent literature on mechanisms has emphasized the superiority of mechanisms and mechanistic explanation over laws and nomological explanation, paradigmatic mechanisms—e.g., clocks or synapses—actually exhibit a great deal of stability in their behavior. And while mechanisms of this kind are certainly of great importance, there are many events that do not occur as a consequence of the operation of stable mechanisms. Events of natural and human history are often the consequence of causal processes that are ephemeral and capricious. In this paper I shall argue that, notwithstanding their ephemeral nature, these processes deserve to be called mechanisms. Ephemeral mechanisms share important characteristics with their more stable cousins, and these shared characteristics will help us to understand connections between scientific and historical explanation.
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    References found in this work BETA
    William Bechtel (2005). Explanation: A Mechanist Alternative. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biol and Biomed Sci 36 (2):421--441.
    Stuart Glennan (2002). Rethinking Mechanistic Explanation. Proceedings of the Philosophy of Science Association 2002 (3):S342-353.

    View all 11 references

    Citations of this work BETA
    Viorel Pâslaru (2014). The Mechanistic Approach of The Theory of Island Biogeography and its Current Relevance. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 45:22-33.
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