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  1. Holly Andersen (2012). Mechanisms: What Are They Evidence for in Evidence-Based Medicine. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice 18 (5):992-999.
    Even though the evidence‐based medicine movement (EBM) labels mechanisms a low quality form of evidence, consideration of the mechanisms on which medicine relies, and the distinct roles that mechanisms might play in clinical practice, offers a number of insights into EBM itself. In this paper, I examine the connections between EBM and mechanisms from several angles. I diagnose what went wrong in two examples where mechanistic reasoning failed to generate accurate predictions for how a dysfunctional mechanism would respond to intervention. (...)
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  2. Mark Balaguer, Elaine Landry, Sorin Bangu & Christopher Pincock (2013). Structures, Fictions, and the Explanatory Epistemology of Mathematics in Science. Metascience 22 (2):247-273.
  3. David Barrett (2014). Functional Analysis and Mechanistic Explanation. Synthese 191 (12):2695-2714.
    Piccinini and Craver (Synthese 183:283–311, 2011) argue for the surprising view that psychological explanation, properly understood, is a species of mechanistic explanation. This contrasts with the ‘received view’ (due, primarily, to Cummins and Fodor) which maintains a sharp distinction between psychological explanation and mechanistic explanation. The former is typically construed as functional analysis, the analysis of some psychological capacity into an organized series of subcapacities without specifying any of the structural features that underlie the explanandum capacity. The latter idea, of (...)
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  4. Robert W. Batterman (2002). The Devil in the Details: Asymptotic Reasoning in Explanation, Reduction, and Emergence. Oxford University Press.
    Robert Batterman examines a form of scientific reasoning called asymptotic reasoning, arguing that it has important consequences for our understanding of the scientific process as a whole. He maintains that asymptotic reasoning is essential for explaining what physicists call universal behavior. With clarity and rigor, he simplifies complex questions about universal behavior, demonstrating a profound understanding of the underlying structures that ground them. This book introduces a valuable new method that is certain to fill explanatory gaps across disciplines.
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  5. William Bechtel, Enriching the Strategies for Creating Mechanistic Explanations in Biology.
    To demonstrate that a proposed mechanism could explain a phenomenon, biologists must recompose the mechanism. Traditionally they have relied on mentally rehearsing the operations, often aided by a mechanism diagram. Such a strategy has reached its limits in contemporary biology. For example, through mental rehearsal alone researchers cannot determine whether a feedback mechanism will generate sustained oscillation. Accordingly, mechanistic inclined biologists are enriching their strategies, relying on computational simulation and graph-theoretical analyses of networks. The limitations of traditional approaches and the (...)
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  6. William Bechtel, Mechanists Must Be Holists Too: Perspectives From Circadian Biology.
    The pursuit of mechanistic explanations in biology has produced a great deal of knowledge about the parts, operations, and organization of mechanisms taken to be responsible for biological phenomena. Holist critics have often raised important criticisms of proposed mechanistic explanations, but until recently holists have not had alternative research strategies through which to advance explanations. This paper argues both that the results of mechanistic strategies has forced mechanists to confront ways in which whole systems affect their components and that new (...)
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  7. William Bechtel (2007). Reducing Psychology While Maintaining its Autonomy Via Mechanistic Explanations. In M. Schouten & H. L. De Joong (eds.), The Matter of the Mind: Philosophical Essays on Psychology, Neuroscience and Reduction. Blackwell.
    Arguments for the autonomy of psychology or other higher-level sciences have often taken the form of denying the possibility of reduction. The form of reduction most proponents and critics of the autonomy of psychology have in mind is theory reduction. Mechanistic explanations provide a different perspective. Mechanistic explanations are reductionist insofar as they appeal to lower-level entities—the component parts of a mechanism and their operations— to explain a phenomenon. However, unlike theory reductions, mechanistic explanations also recognize the fundamental role of (...)
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  8. William Bechtel (2005). Explanation: A Mechanist Alternative. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biol and Biomed Sci 36 (2):421--441.
    Explanations in the life sciences frequently involve presenting a model of the mechanism taken to be responsible for a given phenomenon. Such explanations depart in numerous ways from nomological explanations commonly presented in philosophy of science. This paper focuses on three sorts of differences. First, scientists who develop mechanistic explanations are not limited to linguistic representations and logical inference; they frequently employ dia- grams to characterize mechanisms and simulations to reason about them. Thus, the epistemic resources for presenting mechanistic explanations (...)
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  9. William Bechtel & Adele Abrahamsen (2009). Decomposing, Recomposing, and Situating Circadian Mechanisms: Three Tasks in Developing Mechanistic Explanations. In H. Leitgeb & A. Hieke (eds.), Reduction: Between the Mind and the Brain. Ontos. pp. 12--177.
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  10. Alessandro Blasimme, Paolo Maugeri & Pierre-Luc Germain (2013). What Mechanisms Can’T Do: Explanatory Frameworks and the Function of the P53 Gene in Molecular Oncology. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3):374-384.
    What has been called the new mechanistic philosophy conceives of mechanisms as the main providers of biological explanation. We draw on the characterization of the p53 gene in molecular oncology, to show that explaining a biological phenomenon implies instead a dynamic interaction between the mechanistic level—rendered at the appropriate degree of ontological resolution—and far more general explanatory tools that perform a fundamental epistemic role in the provision of biological explanations. We call such tools “explanatory frameworks”. They are called frameworks to (...)
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  11. Paul Bohan Broderick, Johannes Lenhard & Arnold Silverberg (2006). Dispositional Versus Epistemic Causality. Minds and Machines 16 (3).
    Noam Chomsky and Frances Egan argue that David Marr’s computational theory of vision is not intentional, claiming that the formal scientific theory does not include description of visual content. They also argue that the theory is internalist in the sense of not describing things physically external to the perceiver. They argue that these claims hold for computational theories of vision in general. Beyond theories of vision, they argue that representational content does not figure as a topic within formal computational theories (...)
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  12. Paula Burghgraeve (1992). Mechanistic Explanations and Structure-Determined Systems Maturana and the Human Sciences. In G. van der Vijve (ed.), New Perspectives on Cybernetics. pp. 207--217.
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  13. Paul Carus (1913). The Mechanistic Problem. The Monist 23 (1):148-150.
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  14. Tim Crane (1999). The Autonomy of Psychology. In Rob Wilson & Frank Keil (eds.), The MIT Encyclopedia of the Cognitive Sciences. MIT Press.
    Psychology has been considered to have an autonomy from the other sciences (especially physical science) in at least two ways: in its subject-matter and in its methods. To say that the subject-matter of psychology is autonomous is to say that psychology deals with entities—properties, relations, states—which are not dealt with or not wholly explicable in terms of physical (or any other) science. Contrasted with this is the idea that psychology employs a characteristic method of explanation, which is not shared by (...)
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  15. Carl F. Craver (2005). Beyond Reduction: Mechanisms, Multifield Integration and the Unity of Neuroscience. Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 36 (2):373-395.
  16. Huib L. de Jong (2002). Levels of Explanation in Biological Psychology. Philosophical Psychology 15 (4):441-462.
    Until recently, the notions of function and multiple realization were supposed to save the autonomy of psychological explanations. Furthermore, the concept of supervenience presumably allows both dependence of mind on brain and non-reducibility of mind to brain, reconciling materialism with an independent explanatory role for mental and functional concepts and explanations. Eliminativism is often seen as the main or only alternative to such autonomy. It gladly accepts abandoning or thoroughly reconstructing the psychological level, and considers reduction if successful as equivalent (...)
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  17. Wilhelm K. Essler (1978). A Note on Functional Explanation. Erkenntnis 13 (1):371 - 376.
  18. Carla Fehr (2006). Explanations of the Evolution of Sex: A Plurality of Local Mechanisms. In Stephen H. Kellert, Helen E. Longino & C. Kenneth Waters (eds.), Scientific Pluralism, Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science. University of Minnesota Press. pp. 167-189.
    The evolutionary maintenance of sexual reproduction is a case of explanatory pluralism of central importance to evolutionary biology. I analyze this pluralism from an epistemological perspective. My thesis is that the various explanations of sex are explanatory by virtue of local factors and hence are importantly distinct from one another and cannot be subsumed under a single unifying framework. A critic may argue that philosophical accounts of mechanism can provide just such a framework. I show that this attempt at unification (...)
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  19. Laura Felline (2016). It's a Matter of Principle: Scientific Explanation in Information‐Theoretic Reconstructions of Quantum Theory. Dialectica 70 (4):549-575.
    The aim of this paper is to explore the ways in which Axiomatic Reconstructions of Quantum Theory in terms of Information-Theoretic principles can contribute to explaining and understanding quantum phenomena, as well as to study their explanatory limitations. This is achieved in part by offering an account of the kind of explanation that axiomatic reconstructions of Quantum Theory provide, and re-evaluating the epistemic status of the program in light of this explanation. As illustrative case studies, I take Clifton's, Bub's and (...)
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  20. Laura Felline (2010). Structural Explanation From Special Relativity to Quantum Information Theory. In M. D'Agostino, G. Giorello & F. Laudisa (eds.), SILFS New Essays in Logic and Philosophy of Science. College Pubblications.
  21. John Forge (1980). The Structure of Physical Explanation. Philosophy of Science 47 (2):203-226.
    Some features of physical science relevant for a discussion of physical explanation are mentioned. The D-N account of physical explanation is discussed, and it is seen to restrict the scope of explanation in physical science because it imposes the requirement that the explanandum must be deducible from the explanans. Analysis shows that an alternative view of scientific explanation, called the instance view, allows a wider range of physical explanations. The view is seen to be free from a certain class of (...)
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  22. Allan Franklin (1988). How Nancy Cartwright Tells the Truth. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 39 (4):527-529.
  23. Stuart Glennan (2002). Rethinking Mechanistic Explanation. Proceedings of the Philosophy of Science Association 2002 (3):S342-353.
    Philosophers of science typically associate the causal-mechanical view of scientific explanation with the work of Railton and Salmon. In this paper I shall argue that the defects of this view arise from an inadequate analysis of the concept of mechanism. I contrast Salmon's account of mechanisms in terms of the causal nexus with my own account of mechanisms, in which mechanisms are viewed as complex systems. After describing these two concepts of mechanism, I show how the complex-systems approach avoids certain (...)
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  24. R. L. Gregory (1953). On Physical Model Explanations in Psychology. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 4 (15):192-197.
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  25. Paul E. Griffiths, Arnaud Pocheville, Brett Calcott, Karola Stotz, Hyunju Kim & Rob Knight (2015). Measuring Causal Specificity. Philosophy of Science 82 (4):529-555.
    Several authors have argued that causes differ in the degree to which they are ‘specific’ to their effects. Woodward has used this idea to enrich his influential interventionist theory of causal explanation. Here we propose a way to measure causal specificity using tools from information theory. We show that the specificity of a causal variable is not well defined without a probability distribution over the states of that variable. We demonstrate the tractability and interest of our proposed measure by measuring (...)
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  26. Jens Harbecke (2015). Regularity Constitution and the Location of Mechanistic Levels. Foundations of Science 20 (3):323-338.
    This paper discusses the role of levels and level-bound theoretical terms in neurobiological explanations under the presupposition of a regularity theory of constitution. After presenting the definitions for the constitution relation and the notion of a mechanistic level in the sense of the regularity theory, the paper develops a set of inference rules that allow to determine whether two mechanisms referred to by one or more accepted explanations belong to the same level, or to different levels. The rules are characterized (...)
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  27. Philippe Huneman (forthcoming). Diversifying the Picture of Explanations in Biological Sciences: Ways of Combining Topology with Mechanisms. Synthese:1-32.
    Besides mechanistic explanations of phenomena, which have been seriously investigated in the last decade, biology and ecology also include explanations that pinpoint specific mathematical properties as explanatory of the explanandum under focus. Among these structural explanations, one finds topological explanations, and recent science pervasively relies on them. This reliance is especially due to the necessity to model large sets of data with no practical possibility to track the proper activities of all the numerous entities. The paper first defines topological explanations (...)
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  28. Emiliano Ippoliti, Fabio Sterpetti & Thomas Nickles (eds.) (2016). Models and Inferences in Science. Springer.
    The book answers long-standing questions on scientific modeling and inference across multiple perspectives and disciplines, including logic, mathematics, physics and medicine. The different chapters cover a variety of issues, such as the role models play in scientific practice; the way science shapes our concept of models; ways of modeling the pursuit of scientific knowledge; the relationship between our concept of models and our concept of science. The book also discusses models and scientific explanations; models in the semantic view of theories; (...)
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  29. Daniel Kostić (forthcoming). Mechanistic and Topological Explanations: An Introduction. Synthese:1-10.
    In the last 20 years or so, since the publication of a seminal paper by Watts and Strogatz :440–442, 1998), an interest in topological explanations has spread like a wild fire over many areas of science, e.g. ecology, evolutionary biology, medicine, and cognitive neuroscience. The topological approach is still very young by all standards, and even within special sciences it still doesn’t have a single methodological programme that is applicable across all areas of science. That is why this special issue (...)
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  30. Richard McDonough (1989). Towards a Non-Mechanistic Theory of Meaning. Mind 98 (389):1-21.
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  31. Boaz Miller (2012). The Rationality Principle Idealized. Social Epistemology 26 (1):3-30.
    According to Popper's rationality principle, agents act in the most adequate way according to the objective situation. I propose a new interpretation of the rationality principle as consisting of an idealization and two abstractions. Based on this new interpretation, I critically discuss the privileged status that Popper ascribes to it as an integral part of all social scientific models. I argue that as an idealization, the rationality principle may play an important role in the social sciences, but it also has (...)
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  32. Javier Monserrat (2011). Introduction to Finale Debate: Holistic Approach in Biology and Neuroscience. Pensamiento 67 (254):733-743.
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  33. Ernest Nagel (1977). Functional Explanations in Biology. Journal of Philosophy 74 (5):280-301.
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  34. Robert Northcott & A. Alexandrova (2015). Prisoner's Dilemma Doesn't Explain Much. In Martin Peterson (ed.), The Prisoner’s Dilemma. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 64-84.
    We make the case that the Prisoner’s Dilemma, notwithstanding its fame and the quantity of intellectual resources devoted to it, has largely failed to explain any phenomena of social scientific or biological interest. In the heart of the paper we examine in detail a famous purported example of Prisoner’s Dilemma empirical success, namely Axelrod’s analysis of WWI trench warfare, and argue that this success is greatly overstated. Further, we explain why this negative verdict is likely true generally and not just (...)
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  35. David-Hillel Ruben (2003). Explaining Explanation. Routledge.
    This book introduces readers to the topic of explanation. The insights of Plato, Aristotle, J.S. Mill and Carl Hempel are examined, and are used to argue against the view that explanation is merely a problem for the philosophy of science. Having established its importance for understanding knowledge in general, the book concludes with a bold and original explanation of explanation.
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  36. David-Hillel Ruben (1990). Explanation in the Social Sciences: Singular Explanation and the Social Sciences. Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement 27:95-117.
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  37. Michael Silberstein & Tony Chemero, Constraints on Localization and Decomposition as Explanatory Strategies in the Biological Sciences.
    Several articles have recently appeared arguing that there really are no viable alternatives to mechanistic explanation in the biological sciences. This claim is meant to hold both in principle and in practice. The basic claim is that any explanation of a particular feature of a biological system, including dynamical explanations, must ultimately be grounded in mechanistic explanation. There are several variations on this theme, some stronger and some weaker. In order to avoid equivocation and miscommunication, in section 1 we will (...)
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  38. Jeroen Van Bouwel (2014). Pluralists About Pluralism? Versions of Explanatory Pluralism in Psychiatry. In M. C. Galavotti, D. Dieks, W. J. Gonzalez, S. Hartmann, Th Uebel & M. Weber (eds.), New Directions in Philosophy of Science (The Philosophy of Science in a European Perspective Series). Springer. pp. 105-119.
    In this contribution, I comment on Raffaella Campaner’s defense of explanatory pluralism in psychiatry (in this volume). In her paper, Campaner focuses primarily on explanatory pluralism in contrast to explanatory reductionism. Furthermore, she distinguishes between pluralists who consider pluralism to be a temporary state on the one hand and pluralists who consider it to be a persisting state on the other hand. I suggest that it would be helpful to distinguish more than those two versions of pluralism – different understandings (...)
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  39. Jeroen Van Bouwel (2004). Questioning Structurism as a New Standard for Social Scientific Explanations. Graduate Journal of Social Science 1 (2):204-226.
    As the literature on Critical Realism in the social sciences is growing, it is about time to analyse whether a new, acceptable standard for social scientific explanations is being introduced. In order to do so, I will discuss the work of Christopher Lloyd, who analysed contributions of social scientists that rely on (what he called) a structurist ontology and a structurist methodology, and advocated a third option in the methodological debate between individualism and holism. I will suggest modifications to three (...)
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  40. Jeroen van Bouwel, Erik Weber & Leen de Vreese (2011). Indispensability Arguments in Favour of Reductive Explanations. Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 42 (1):33-46.
    Instances of explanatory reduction are often advocated on metaphysical grounds; given that the only real things in the world are subatomic particles and their interaction, we have to try to explain everything in terms of the laws of physics. In this paper, we show that explanatory reduction cannot be defended on metaphysical grounds. Nevertheless, indispensability arguments for reductive explanations can be developed, taking into account actual scientific practice and the role of epistemic interests. Reductive explanations might be indispensable to address (...)
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  41. Dingmar van Eck (2015). Reconciling Ontic and Epistemic Constraints on Mechanistic Explanation, Epistemically. Axiomathes 25 (1):5-22.
    In this paper I address the current debate on ontic versus epistemic conceptualizations of mechanistic explanation in the mechanisms literature. Illari recently argued that good explanations are subject to both ontic and epistemic constraints: they must describe mechanisms in the world in such fashion that they provide understanding of their workings. Elaborating upon Illari’s ‘integration’ account, I argue that causal role function discovery of mechanisms and their components is an epistemic prerequisite for achieving these two aims. This analysis extends Illari’s (...)
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  42. Heath White (2011). Mattering and Mechanism: Must a Mechanistic Universe Be Depressing? Ratio 24 (3):326-339.
    There is an intuition to the effect that, if human actions are explicable in scientific terms – that is, if mechanism holds – then our lives and actions do not matter. “Mattering” depends on successful intentional explanations of human actions. The intuition springs from an intuitive analogy between manipulation and mechanism: just as a manipulated agent's actions are not successfully explained in intentional terms, neither are the actions of a mechanistic agent. I explore ways to avoid the conclusion of this (...)
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  43. Allen W. Wood (1986). Historical Materialism and Functional Explanation. Inquiry 29 (1-4):11 – 27.
    This paper is a critical examination of one central theme in Jon Elster's Making Sense of Marx; Elster's defense of ?methodological individualism? in social science and his related critique of Marx's use of ?functional explanation?. The paper does not quarrel with Elster's claim that the particular instances of functional explanation advanced by Marx are defective; what it criticizes is Elster's attempt to raise principled, philosophical objections to this type of explanation in the social sciences. It is argued that Elster's philosophical (...)
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  44. James Woodward, Explanation in Neurobiology: An Interventionist Perspective.
    This paper employs an interventionist framework to elucidate some issues having to do with explanation in neurobiology and with the differences between mechanistic and non-mechanistic explanations.
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  45. Petri Ylikoski & N. Emrah Aydinonat (2014). Understanding with Theoretical Models. Journal of Economic Methodology 21 (1):19-36.
    This paper discusses the epistemic import of highly abstract and simplified theoretical models using Thomas Schelling’s checkerboard model as an example. We argue that the epistemic contribution of theoretical models can be better understood in the context of a cluster of models relevant to the explanatory task at hand. The central claim of the paper is that theoretical models make better sense in the context of a menu of possible explanations. In order to justify this claim, we introduce a distinction (...)
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Explanation in the Sciences, Misc
  1. Reutlinger Alexander & Andersen Holly (forthcoming). Abstract Versus Causal Explanations? International Studies in the Philosophy of Science.
    In the recent literature on causal and non-causal scientific explanations, there is an intuitive assumption (which we call the ‘abstractness assumption’) according to which an explanation is non-causal by virtue of being abstract. In this context, to be “abstract” means that the explanans in question leaves out many or almost all causal microphysical details of the target system. After motivating this assumption, we argue that the abstractness assumption, in placing the abstract and the causal character of an explanation in tension, (...)
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  2. Holly Andersen (2014). A Field Guide to Mechanisms: Part I. Philosophy Compass 9 (4):274-283.
    In this field guide, I distinguish five separate senses with which the term ‘mechanism’ is used in contemporary philosophy of science. Many of these senses have overlapping areas of application but involve distinct philosophical claims and characterize the target mechanisms in relevantly different ways. This field guide will clarify the key features of each sense and introduce some main debates, distinguishing those that transpire within a given sense from those that are best understood as concerning distinct senses. The ‘new mechanisms’ (...)
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  3. Holly Andersen (2014). A Field Guide to Mechanisms: Part II. Philosophy Compass 9 (4):284-293.
    In this field guide, I distinguish five separate senses with which the term ‘mechanism’ is used in contemporary philosophy of science. Many of these senses have overlapping areas of application but involve distinct philosophical claims and characterize the target mechanisms in relevantly different ways. This field guide will clarify the key features of each sense and introduce some main debates, distinguishing those that transpire within a given sense from those that are best understood as concerning two distinct senses. The ‘new (...)
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  4. Michael Baumgartner & Alexander Gebharter (2016). Constitutive Relevance, Mutual Manipulability, and Fat-Handedness. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 67 (3):731-756.
    The first part of this paper argues that if Craver’s ([2007a], [2007b]) popular mutual manipulability account (MM) of mechanistic constitution is embedded within Woodward’s ([2003]) interventionist theory of causation--for which it is explicitly designed--it either undermines the mechanistic research paradigm by entailing that there do not exist relationships of constitutive relevance or it gives rise to the unwanted consequence that constitution is a form of causation. The second part shows how Woodward’s theory can be adapted in such a way that (...)
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  5. Mike Braverman, John Clevenger, Ian Harmon, Andrew Higgins, Zachary Horne, Joseph Spino & Jonathan Waskan (2012). Intelligibility is Necessary for Scientific Explanation, but Accuracy May Not Be. In Naomi Miyake, David Peebles & Richard Cooper (eds.), Proceedings of the Thirty-Fourth Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Cognitive Science Society.
    Many philosophers of science believe that empirical psychology can contribute little to the philosophical investigation of explanations. They take this to be shown by the fact that certain explanations fail to elicit any relevant psychological events (e.g., familiarity, insight, intelligibility, etc.). We report results from a study suggesting that, at least among those with extensive science training, a capacity to render an event intelligible is considered a requirement for explanation. We also investigate for whom explanations must be capable of rendering (...)
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