Graduate studies at Western
|Abstract||When we think about mechanisms, there are two general issues we need to consider. The first is broadly epistemic and has to do with the understanding of nature that identifying and knowing mechanisms yields. The second is broadly metaphysical and has to do with the status of mechanisms as building blocks of nature (and in particular, as fundamental constituents of causation). These two issues can be brought together under a certain assumption, which has had long historical pedigree, namely that nature is fundamentally mechanical. What exactly does it mean to say that nature is mechanical? What is the content of this thesis? This assumption has had no concrete ahistorical conceptual content. Rather, its content has varied according to the dominant conception of nature that has characterised each epoch. Nor has it been the case that the very idea of mechanism has had a fixed and definite content. Even if in the seventeenth century and beyond, the idea of mechanism had something to do with matter in motion subject to mechanical laws, current conceptions of mechanism have only a very loose connection with this. A mechanism, nowadays, is virtually any relatively stable arrangement of entities such that, by engaging in certain interactions, a function is performed or an effect is brought about. To call a structure a mechanism is simply to describe it in a certain way—focusing on the steps or processes through which an effect is brought about.|
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