Among the most promising options for vindicating Oppenheim and Putnam’s unity of science hypothesis is the ‘Mentaculus’ of Albert and Loewer. I assess whether this promise can be borne out. My focus is on whether the Mentaculus can deliver what Oppenheim and Putnam call the ‘unity of laws’: the reduction of special science laws to the laws of fundamental physics. I conclude that although the Mentaculus may support a fairly strong form of reductionism, it falls short of upholding the unity (...) of laws. (shrink)
Positing levels of explanation has played an important role in philosophy of science. This facilitated the advocacy of antireductionism of explanations, which, at its most basic, is the idea that scientific explanations citing large (i.e. non-microphysical) entities will persist. The idea that explanations come in levels captures important features of explanatory practices, and it also does well at helping to define different positions one might take regarding explanatory reductionism or antireductionism. Yet the idea that explanations come in levels has also (...) led philosophers astray. This systematically misconstrues the relationship different explanations bear to one another, suggests candidate explanations are less numerous than they in fact are, and occludes recognition of how the selection of explanations can vary across research projects. Antireductionists about explanation should move on from talk of levels. Or so I will argue. (shrink)
Philip Kitcher has advocated and advanced an influential antireductionist picture of science on which the higher-level sciences pursue their aims largely independently of the lower-level sciences -- a view of the sciences as autonomous. Explanatory autonomy as Kitcher understands it is incompatible with explanatory reductionism, the view that a high-level explanation is inevitably improved by providing a lower-level explanation of its parts. This paper explores an alternative conception of autonomy based on another major theme of Kitcher's philosophy of science: the (...) importance of the division of cognitive labor. That the sciences are in practice autonomous is compatible with reductionism, I argue, if we understand the high-level sciences' systematic explanatory disregard of lower-level details of implementation as practically, rather than intellectually, motivated. (shrink)
The history of developmental biology is interwoven with debates as to whether mechanistic explanations of development are possible or whether alternative explanatory principles or even vital forces need to be assumed. In particular, the demonstrated ability of embryonic cells to tune their developmental fate precisely to their relative position and the overall size of the embryo was once thought to be inexplicable in mechanistic terms. Taking a causal perspective, this Element examines to what extent and how developmental biology, having turned (...) molecular about four decades ago, has been able to meet the vitalist challenge. It focuses not only on the nature of explanations but also on the usefulness of causal knowledge – including the knowledge of classical experimental embryology – for further scientific discovery. It also shows how this causal perspective allows us to understand the nature and significance of some key concepts, including organizer, signal and morphogen. This title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core. (shrink)
Multiple realisation prompts the question: how is it that multiple systems all exhibit the same phenomena despite their different underlying properties? In this paper I develop a framework for addressing that question and argue that multiple realisation can be reductively explained. I illustrate this position by applying the framework to a simple example – the multiple realisation of electrical conductivity. I defend my account by addressing potential objections:contra Polger and Shapiro, Batterman, and Sober, I claim that multiple realisation is commonplace, (...) that it can be reductively explained, but that it requires asui generisreductive explanatory strategy. (shrink)
There is a widely shared belief that the higher-level sciences can provide better explanations than lower-level sciences. But there is little agreement about exactly why this is so. It is often suggested that higher-level explanations are better because they omit details. I will argue instead that the preference for higher-level explanations is just a special case of our general preference for informative, logically strong, beliefs. I argue that our preference for informative beliefs entirely accounts for why higher-level explanations are sometimes (...) better—and sometimes worse—than lower-level explanations. The result is a step in the direction of the unity of science hypothesis. 1Introduction2Background: Is Omitting Details an Explanatory Virtue? 2.1Anti-reductionist arguments2.2Reductionist argument2.3Logical strength3Bases, Links and Logical Strength4Functionalism and Fodor’s Argument5Two Generalizations6Should the Base Really Be Maximally Strong?7Anti-reductionist Arguments Regarding the Base8Should the Antecedent of the Link Really Be Maximally Weak? (shrink)
The numerous and diverse roles of theory reduction in science have been insufficiently explored in the philosophy literature on reduction. Part of the reason for this has been a lack of attention paid to reduction2 (successional reduction)—although I here argue that this sense of reduction is closer to reduction1 (explanatory reduction) than is commonly recognised, and I use an account of reduction that is neutral between the two. This paper draws attention to the utility—and incredible versatility—of theory reduction. A non-exhaustive (...) list of various applications of reduction in science is presented, some of which are drawn from a particular case-study, being the current search for a new theory of fundamental physics. This case-study is especially interesting because it employs both senses of reduction at once, and because of the huge weight being put on reduction by the different research groups involved; additionally, it presents some unique uses for reduction—revealing, I argue, the fact that reduction can be of specialised and unexpected service in particular scientific cases. The paper makes two other general findings: that the functions of reduction that are typically assumed to characterise the different forms of the relation may instead be understood as secondary consequences of some other roles; and that most of the roles that reduction plays in science can actually also be fulfilled by a weaker relation than (the typical understanding of) reduction. (shrink)
Over the last few decades, philosophers and social scientists have applied the so-called powers ontology to the social domain. I argue that this application is highly problematic: many of the alleged powers in the social realm violate the intrinsicality condition, and those that can be coherently taken to be intrinsic to their bearers are arguably causally redundant. I end the paper by offering a diagnosis of why philosophers and social scientists have been tempted to think that there are powers in (...) social realm. (shrink)
Recently there has been a trend of moving towards biological and neurocognitive based classifications of mental disorders that is motivated by a dissatisfaction with the syndrome-based classifications of mental disorders. The Research Domain Criteria (indicated with the acronym RDoC) represents a bold and systematic attempt to foster this advancement. However, RDoC faces theoretical and conceptual issues that need to be addressed. Some of these difficulties emerge when we reflect on the plausible reading of the slogan “mental disorders are brain disorders”, (...) that according to proponents of RDoC constitutes one of its main presuppositions. Some authors think that endorsing this idea commits RDoC to a form of biological reductionism. We offer empirical and theoretical considerations for concluding that the slogan above should not be read as a reductionist thesis. We argue, instead, that the slogan has a pragmatic function whose aim is to direct research in psychopathology. We show how this function might be captured in the framework of a Carnapian explication as a methodological tool for conceptual engineering. Thus, we argue that a charitable interpretation of the aims of the proponents of RDoC should be understood as an attempt at providing an explication of the concept of mental disorder in terms of brain disorder whose main goal is to provide a more precise and fruitful notion that is expected to have a beneficial impact on classification, research, and treatment of psychiatric conditions. (shrink)
A simple argument proposes a direct link between realism about quantum mechanics and one kind of metaphysical holism: if elementary quantum theory is at least approximately true, then there are entangled systems with intrinsic whole states for which the intrinsic properties and spatiotemporal arrangements of salient subsystem parts do not suffice. Initially, the proposal is compelling: we can find variations on such reasoning throughout influential discussions of entanglement. Upon further consideration, though, this simple argument proves a bit too simple. To (...) get such metaphysically robust consequences out, we need to put more than minimal realism in. This paper offers a diagnosis: our simple argument seems so compelling thanks to an equivocation. The predictions of textbook quantum theory already resonate with familiar holistic slogans; for realists, then, any underlying reality, conforming to such predictions, also counts as holistic in some sense or other, if only by association. Such associated holism, though, does not establish the sort of specific, robust supervenience failure claimed by our simple argument. While it may be natural to slide to this stronger conclusion, facilitating the slide is not minimal realism per se but an additional explanatory assumption about how and why reality behaves in accordance with our theory: roughly, quantum theory accurately captures patterns in the features and behaviors of physical reality because some underlying metaphysical structure constrains reality to exhibit these patterns. Along with the diagnosis comes a recommendation: we can and should understand one traditional disagreement about the metaphysics of entanglement as another manifestation of a familiar and more general conflict between reductive and non-reductive conceptions of metaphysical theorizing. Such reframing makes clearer what resources reductionists have for resisting the simple argument’s challenge from quantum holism. It also has an important moral for their opponents. Traditional focus on whole-part supervenience failure distracts from a root disagreement about metaphysical structure and its role in our theorizing. Non-reductionists fond of our simple argument would be better off tackling this root directly. (shrink)
In this paper significant challenges are raised with respect to the view that explanation essentially involves unification. These objections are raised specifically with respect to the well-known versions of unificationism developed and defended by Michael Friedman and Philip Kitcher. The objections involve the explanatory regress argument and the concepts of reduction and scientific understanding. Essentially, the contention made here is that these versions of unificationism wrongly assume that reduction secures understanding.
We develop a partial solution to the meta-problem of consciousness that builds on our previous psychological account of an apparent explanatory gap. Drawing from empirical work on explanatory cognition and conceptual development, we sketch a profile of cognitive systems for which primitive concepts facilitate explanatory gaps. This account predicts that there will be multiple explanatory gaps. We suggest that this is borne out by the existence of primitivist theories in multiple philosophical domains.
Many think that sentences about what metaphysically explains what are true iff there exist grounding relations. This suggests that sceptics about grounding should be error theorists about metaphysical explanation. We think there is a better option: a theory of metaphysical explanation which offers truth conditions for claims about what metaphysically explains what that are not couched in terms of grounding relations, but are instead couched in terms of, inter alia, psychological facts. We do not argue that our account is superior (...) to grounding-based accounts. Rather, we offer it to those already ill-disposed towards grounding. (shrink)
Many philosophers embrace grounding, supposedly a central notion of metaphysics. Grounding is widely assumed to be irreflexive, but recently a number of authors have questioned this assumption: according to them, it is at least possible that some facts ground themselves. The primary purpose of this paper is to problematize the notion of self-grounding through the theoretical roles usually assigned to grounding. The literature typically characterizes grounding as at least playing two central theoretical roles: a structuring role and an explanatory role. (...) Once we carefully spell out what playing these roles includes, however, we find that any notion of grounding that isn’t irreflexive fails to play these roles when they are interpreted narrowly, and is redundant for playing them when they are interpreted more broadly. The upshot is that no useful notion of grounding can allow a fact to ground itself. (shrink)
We sketch the mechanistic approach to levels, contrast it with other senses of “level,” and explore some of its metaphysical implications. This perspective allows us to articulate what it means for things to be at different levels, to distinguish mechanistic levels from realization relations, and to describe the structure of multilevel explanations, the evidence by which they are evaluated, and the scientific unity that results from them. This approach is not intended to solve all metaphysical problems surrounding physicalism. Yet it (...) provides a framework for thinking about how the macroscopic phenomena of our world are or might be related to its most fundamental entities and activities. (shrink)
In the light of what appear to be clear counterexamples, I argue that Jaegwon Kim’s comparative evaluation of functional reduction and reduction via necessary identities is problematic. I trace the problem to two sources: a misplaced metaphysical assumption about the explanatory role of identities and an excessively strong and narrow criterion for successful reductive explanation. Appreciating where Kim’s critique runs astray enhances our understanding of the role of necessary identities in reductive explanation.
The idea of levels of organization plays a central role in the philosophy of the life sciences. In this article, I first examine the explanatory goals that have motivated accounts of levels of organization. I then show that the most state-of-the-art and scientifically plausible account of levels of organization, the account of levels of mechanism proposed by Bechtel and Craver, is fundamentally problematic. Finally, I argue that the explanatory goals can be reached by adopting a deflationary approach, where levels of (...) organization give way to more well-defined and fundamental notions, such as scale and composition. (shrink)
The principle of mass additivity states that the mass of a composite object is the sum of the masses of its elementary components. Mass additivity is true in Newtonian mechanics but false in special relativity. Physicists have explained why mass additivity is true in Newtonian mechanics by reducing it to Newton’s microphysical laws. This reductive explanation does not fit well with deducibility theories of reductive explanation such as the modern Nagelian theory of reduction, and the a priori entailment theory of (...) reduction that is prominent in the philosophy of mind. Nonetheless, I argue that a reconstruction of the explanation that incorporates distinctively philosophical concepts in fact fits both theories. I discuss the implications of this result for both theories and for the reductive explanation of consciousness. (shrink)
This volume investigates the notion of reduction. Building on the idea that philosophers employ the term ‘reduction’ to reconcile diversity and directionality with unity, without relying on elimination, the book offers a powerful explication of an “ontological” notion of reduction the extension of which is (primarily) formed by properties, kinds, individuals, or processes. It argues that related notions of reduction, such as theory-reduction and functional reduction, should be defined in terms of this explication. Thereby, the book offers a coherent framework, (...) which sheds light on the history of the various reduction debates in the philosophy of science and in the philosophy of mind, and on related topics such as reduction and unification, the notion of a scientific level, and physicalism. (shrink)
When doing metaphysics, it is frequently convenient and sometimes essential to rely upon various notions of fundamentality when articulating the problems, positions, and arguments at issue. But what it is, exactly, the relevant notions are supposed to track remains obscure. The goal of this dissertation is to develop and defend a theory about the metaphysics of fundamentality; by doing so, I clarify and vindicate the roles that notions of fundamentality play in metaphysics. At the theory’s core are two notions particularly (...) prevalent in metaphysical inquiry: something’s being ‘derived’ from or holding ‘wholly in virtue of’ something else (the notion of grounding), and something’s being ‘reducible’ to or ‘non-circularly definable’ in terms of something else (the notion of reductive analysis). -/- I begin by arguing that the notion of grounding ought to serve as a foundation for understanding the metaphysics of fundamentality more generally (“Grounding the Metaphysics of Fundamentality”). I then propose a novel account of reductive analysis that retains the traditional insight that a reductive analysis purports to describe the constituents of a property or fact and depict how they are structured together (“On What Consists in What”). I then argue that even though the two notions are distinct, facts about grounding can be understood wholly and without circularity in terms of a certain pattern of facts about reductive analysis (“Getting Grounded”). I conclude the dissertation by challenging a widespread assumption in both the literature on the metaphysics of fundamentality and in first-order disputes about what grounds what, according to which a fact is necessitated by the facts that ground it (“Against Grounding Necessitarianism”). (shrink)
Assume that water reduces to H2O. If so water is identical to H2O. At the same time, if water reduces to H2O then H2O does not reduce to water–the reduction relation is asymmetric. This generates a puzzle–if water just is H2O it is hard to see how we can account for the asymmetry of the reduction relation. The paper proposes a solution to this puzzle. It is argued that the reduction predicate generates intensional contexts and that in order to account (...) for the asymmetry, we should develop conditions on the meanings of expressions that flank the reduction predicate in true reduction statements. Finally, it is argued that if we adopt this interpretation, we can illuminate the epistemological difference between reduced and reducing item commonly referred to in the literature. (shrink)
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 (...) some epistemic interest answering a specific explanation-seeking question in the most accurate, adequate and efficient way. Just like explanatory pluralists often advocate the indispensability of higher levels of explanation pointing at the pragmatic value of the explanatory information obtained on these higher levels, we argue that explanatory reduction—traditionally understood as the contender of pluralism—can be defended in a similar way. The pragmatic value reductionist, lower level explanations might have in the biomedical sciences and the social sciences is illustrated by some case studies. (shrink)
I argue that there is a flaw in the way that response-dependence has been formulated in the literature, and this flawed formulation has been correctly attacked by Mark Johnston’s Missing Explanation Argument (1993, 1998). Moving to a better formulation, which is analogous to the move from behaviourism to functionalism, avoids the Missing Explanation Argument.
This essay analyzes and develops recent views about explanation in biology. Philosophers of biology have parted with the received deductive-nomological model of scientific explanation primarily by attempting to capture actual biological theorizing and practice. This includes an endorsement of different kinds of explanation (e.g., mathematical and causal-mechanistic), a joint study of discovery and explanation, and an abandonment of models of theory reduction in favor of accounts of explanatory reduction. Of particular current interest are philosophical accounts of complex explanations that appeal (...) to different levels of organismal organization and use contributions from different biological disciplines. The essay lays out one model that views explanatory integration across different disciplines as being structured by scientific problems. I emphasize the philosophical need to take the explanatory aims pursued by different groups of scientists into account, as explanatory aims determine whether different explanations are competing or complementary and govern the dynamics of scientific practice, including interdisciplinary research. I distinguish different kinds of pluralism that philosophers have endorsed in the context of explanation in biology, and draw several implications for science education, especially the need to teach science as an interdisciplinary and dynamic practice guided by scientific problems and explanatory aims. (shrink)
Many biologists and philosophers have worried that importing models of reasoning from the physical sciences obscures our understanding of reasoning in the life sciences. In this paper we discuss one example that partially validates this concern: part-whole reductive explanations. Biology and physics tend to incorporate different models of temporality in part-whole reductive explanations. This results from differential emphases on compositional and causal facets of reductive explanations, which have not been distinguished reliably in prior philosophical analyses. Keeping these two facets distinct (...) facilitates the identifi cation of two further aspects of reductive explanation: intrinsicality and fundamentality. Our account provides resources for discriminating between different types of reductive explanation and suggests a new approach to comprehending similarities and differences in the explanatory reasoning found in biology and physics. (shrink)
Truthmaker theorists hold that propositions about higher-level entities (e.g. the proposition that there is a heap of sand) are often made true by lower-level entities (e.g. by facts about the configuration of fundamental particles). This generates a problem: what should we say about these higher-level entities? On the one hand, they must exist (since there are true propositions about them), on the other hand, it seems that they are completely superfluous and should be banished for reasons of ontological parsimony. Some (...) truthmaker theorists—most prominently David Armstrong—have tried to solve this puzzle by arguing that these entities are ‘an ontological free lunch’, i.e. real existents that are still ‘no addition of being’. This answer is prima facie attractive, but I argue in this paper that the standard approaches to truthmaking—modal theories and grounding theories—are unable to vindicate the doctrine of the ontological free lunch, and thus fail to solve the problem of higher-level entities. Fortunately, there is a non-standard account of truthmaking available, the reductive explanation account, which succeeds where the standard approaches fail. (shrink)
This article aims to show that fundamentality is construed differently in the two most prominent strategies of analysis we find in physical science and engineering today: (1) atomistic, reductive analysis and (2) Systems analysis. Correspondingly, atomism is the conception according to which the simplest (smallest) indivisible entity of a certain kind is most fundamental; while systemism, as will be articulated here, is the conception according to which the bonds that structure wholes are most fundamental, and scale and/or constituting entities are (...) of no significance whatsoever for fundamentality. Accordingly, atomists maintain that the basic entities—the atoms—are fundamental, and together with the “external” interactions among them, are sufficient for illuminating all the features and behaviors of the wholes they constitute; whereas systemists proclaim that it is instead structural qualities of systems, that flow from internal relations among their constituents and translate directly into behaviors, that are fundamental, and by themselves largely (if not entirely) sufficient for illuminating the features and behaviors of the wholes thereby structured. Systemism, as will be argued, is consistent with the nonexistence of a fundamental “level” of nondecomposable entities, just as it is consistent with the existence of such a level. Still, systemism is a conception of the fundamental in quite different, but still ontological terms. Systemism can serve the special sciences—the social sciences especially—better than the conception of fundamentality in terms of atoms. Systemism is, in fact, a conception of fundamentality that has rather different uses—and importantly, different resonances. This conception of fundamentality makes contact with questions pertaining to natural kinds and their situation in the metaphysics of the special sciences—their situation within an order of autonomous sciences. The controversy over fundamentality is evident in the social sciences too, albeit somewhat imperfectly, in the terms of debate between methodological individualists and functionalists/holists. This article will thus clarify the difference between systemism and holism. (shrink)
In the context of mechanistic explanation, reductionistic research pursues a decomposition of complex systems into their component parts and operations. Using research on the mechanisms responsible for circadian rhythms, I consider both the gains that have been made by discovering genes and proteins that figure in these intracellular oscillators and also highlight the increasingly recognized need to understand higher-level integration, both between cells in the central oscillator and between the central and peripheral oscillators. This history illustrates a common need to (...) complement reductionistic inquiry with investigations at higher-levels. Unlike most other accounts of reduction, the mechanistic framework accommodates this complementary relationship between reductionistic and systems approaches. (shrink)
I aim to reconcile two apparently conﬂicting theses: (a) Everything that can be explained, can be explained in purely physical terms, that is, using the machinery of fundamental physics, and (b) some properties that play an explanatory role in the higher level sciences are irreducible in the strong sense that they are physically undefinable: their nature cannot be described using the vocabulary of physics. I investigate the contribution that physically undefinable properties typically make to explanations in the high-level sciences, and (...) I show that when they are explanatorily relevant, it is in virtue of their extension (or something close) alone. They are irreducible because physics cannot capture their nature; this is no obstacle, however, to physics' more or less capturing their extension, which is all that it need do to duplicate their explanatory power. In the course of the argument, I sketch the outlines of an account of the explanation of physically contingent regularities, such as the regularities found in most branches of biological inquiry, at the center of which is an account of the nature of contingent, empirical bridge principles. (shrink)
In this paper, the relation between identity-based reduction and one specific sort of reductive explanation is considered. The notion of identity-based reduction is spelled out and its role in the reduction debate is sketched. An argument offered by Jaegwon Kim, which is supposed to show that identity-based reduction and reductive explanation are incompatible, is critically examined. From the discussion of this argument, some important consequences about the notion of reduction are pointed out.
According to a model defended by some authors, dispositional concepts can be legitimately used in causal explanations, although such a use is not necessary. I argue, however, that there is a kind of use of dispositions in explanations that does not fall within this model: we will miss some explanations if we forsake dispositional concepts and explanations.
One strategy for blocking Chalmers's overall case against physicalism has been to deny his claim that showing that phenomenal properties are in some sense physical requires an a priori entailment of the phenomenal truths from the physical ones. Here I avoid this well-trodden ground and argue instead that an a priori entailment of the phenomenal truths from the physical ones does not require an analysis in the Jackson/Chalmers sense. This is to sever the dualist's link between conceptual analysis and a (...) priori entailment by showing that the lack of the former does not imply the absence of the latter. Moreover, given the role of the argument from conceptual analysis in Chalmers's overall case for dualism, undermining that argument effectively undermines that case as a whole in a way that, I'll argue, undermining the conceivability arguments as stand-alone arguments does not. (shrink)
Psychoneural reductionists sometimes claim that sufficient amounts of lower-level explanatory achievement preclude further contributions from higher-level psychological research. Ostensibly, with nothing left to do, the effect of such preclusion on psychological explanation is extinction. Reductionist arguments for preclusion have recently involved a reorientation within the philosophical foundations of neuroscience---namely, away from the philosophical foundations and toward the neuroscience. In this chapter, I review a successful reductive explanation of an aspect of reward function in terms of dopaminergic operations of the mesocorticolimbic (...) system in order to demonstrate why preclusion/extinction claims are dubious. (shrink)
It doesn’t seem possible to be a realist about the traditional Christian God while claiming to be able to reduce God talk in naturalistically acceptable terms. Reduction, in this case, seems obviously eliminativist. Many philosophers seem to think that the same is true of the normative—that reductive “realists” about the normative are not really realists about the normative at all, or at least, only in some attenuated sense. This paper takes on the challenge of articulating what it is that makes (...) reductive theological realism look hopeless, with the aim of explaining why we should think that the normative is relevantly different. Although it follows from my diagnosis that reductivists have their work cut out for them, I find nothing which suggests that the prospects for a successful reductive realism about the normative are in any way diminished—particularly for reductive views about reasons. Even reductivists, I argue, can at least aspire to a realism that is robust. (shrink)
Suppose we discovered that all the women in the Slobbovian culture exhibit a strong preference for blue-handled knives and red-handled forks. They would rather starve than eat with utensils of the wrong color. We’d be rightly puzzled, and eager to find an explanation. ‘Well,” these women tell us, “blue-handled knives are snazzier, you know. And just look at them: these red-handled forks are, well, just plain beautiful!” This should not satisfy us. Why do they say this? Their answers may make (...) sense to them, and even to us, once we’ve managed to insert ourselves to some degree into their culture, but that is not the end of it. We want to know why there is a culture with such apparently arbitrary and unmotivated preferences. To us outsiders, the need for an answer stands out, even if the Slobbovians themselves think their answers are self-evident and quite satisfying. Similarly, we may think it is just obvious that laughter is the appropriate response to humor. Why are some female shapes sexy and others not? Isn’t it obvious? Just look at them! But that is not the end of it. The universalities, regularities and trends in our responses to the world do indeed guarantee, trivially, that they are part of “human nature,” but that still leaves the question of why. Something must pay for these extravagant features. What? To answer, we need to adopt an evolutionary point of view, which encourages us to look at all aspects of human nature from the sort of alien, Martian perspective that science thrives on. This perspective, self-consciously objective and bristling with hooks for attachment to the rest of science, is anathema to John Dupré. It reeks of “reductionism” and “scientism” and “economism”. He wants to preserve and even privilege the traditional “explanations” of such features of human nature, not just as part of the story but as a part that excuses us from hunting for deeper, unifying explanations of the same features. Wittgenstein famously said that explanation has to stop somewhere, and Dupré seems to want it to stop just before these curiously invasive evolutionary questions get posed. (shrink)
Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is a tiny worm that has become the focus of a large number of worldwide research projects examining its genetics, development, neuroscience, and behavior. Recently several groups of investigators have begun to tie together the behavior of the organism and the underlying genes, neural circuits, and molecular processes implemented in those circuits. Behavior is quintessentially organismal--it is the organism as a whole that moves and mates--but the explanations are devised at the molecular and neurocircuit levels, and (...) tested in populations using protocols that span many levels of aggregation. Following a brief review of the main relevant features of C. elegans, I describe some of these circuits, and then discuss two contrasting approaches in behavioral genetics and neural network analysis of the worm. Finally, I outline the rudiments of a "field and focus" explanation model using the two contrasting approaches. (shrink)