David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Ezio Di Nucci
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Biology and Philosophy 26 (5):737-756 (2011)
This paper is about mechanisms and models, and how they interact. In part, it is a response to recent discussion in philosophy of biology regarding whether natural selection is a mechanism. We suggest that this debate is indicative of a more general problem that occurs when scientists produce mechanistic models of populations and their behaviour. We can make sense of claims that there are mechanisms that drive population-level phenomena such as macroeconomics, natural selection, ecology, and epidemiology. But talk of mechanisms and mechanistic explanation evokes objects with well-defined and localisable parts which interact in discrete ways, while models of populations include parts and interactions that are neither local nor discrete in any actual populations. This apparent tension can be resolved by carefully distinguishing between the properties of a model and those of the system it represents. To this end, we provide an analysis that recognises the flexible relationship between a mechanistic model and its target system. In turn, this reveals a surprising feature of mechanistic representation and explanation: it can occur even when there is a mismatch between the mechanism of the model and that of its target. Our analysis reframes the debate, providing an alternative way to interpret scientists’ mechanism-talk , which initially motivated the issue. We suggest that the relevant question is not whether any population-level phenomenon such as natural selection is a mechanism, but whether it can be usefully modelled as though it were a particular type of mechanism
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References found in this work BETA
James Woodward (2003). Making Things Happen: A Theory of Causal Explanation. Oxford University Press.
Judea Pearl (2000). Causality: Models, Reasoning, and Inference. Cambridge University Press.
Peter K. Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver (2000). Thinking About Mechanisms. Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
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.
Citations of this work BETA
Arnon Levy (2013). Three Kinds of New Mechanism. Biology and Philosophy 28 (1):99-114.
Adrian Mitchell Currie (2013). Narratives, Mechanisms and Progress in Historical Science. Synthese 191 (6):1-21.
Dingmar van Eck (2015). Validating Function-Based Design Methods: An Explanationist Perspective. Philosophy and Technology 28 (4):511-531.
Dingmar van Eck (2015). Mechanistic Explanation in Engineering Science. European Journal for Philosophy of Science 5 (3):349-375.
Maureen A. O’Malley, Orkun S. Soyer & Mark L. Siegal (2015). A Philosophical Perspective on Evolutionary Systems Biology. Biological Theory 10 (1):6-17.
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