Mechanisms, malfunctions and explanation in medicine

Biology and Philosophy 25 (2):215-228 (2010)
Mechanisms are a way of explaining how biological phenomena work rather than why single elements of biological systems are there. However, mechanisms are usually described as physiological entities, and little or no attention is paid to malfunction as an independent theoretical concept. On the other hand, malfunction is the main focus of interest of applied sciences such as medicine. In this paper I argue that malfunctions are parts of pathological mechanisms, which should be considered separate theoretical entities, conceptually having a priority over physiological sequences. While pathological mechanisms can be described in terms of a Cummins-like mechanistic explanation, they show some unnoticed peculiarities when compared to physiological ones. Some features of pathological mechanisms are considered, such as outcome variability, ambivalence and dependence on a range.
Keywords Philosophy   Evolutionary Biology   Philosophy of Biology
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References found in this work BETA
Robert C. Cummins (1975). Functional Analysis. Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.
Paul Sheldon Davies (2000). Malfunctions. Biology and Philosophy 15 (1):19-38.

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