Philosophy Compass 9 (4):274-283 (2014)

Holly Andersen
Simon Fraser University
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’ sense is at the center of most of these contemporary debates and will be treated at greater length; subsequent senses of mechanism will be primarily distinguished from this one. In part I of this paper, I distinguish two senses of the term ‘mechanism’, both of which are explicitly hierarchical and nested in character, such that any given mechanism is comprised of smaller sub-mechanisms, in turn comprised of yet smaller sub-sub-mechanisms and so on. While both of the senses discussed here are anti-reductive, they differ in their focus on scientific practice versus metaphysics, in the degree of regularity they attribute to mechanisms, and in terms of their relationships to the discussions of mechanisms in the history of philosophy and science
Keywords mechanisms  causation  explanation  reduction  methodology
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1111/phc3.12119
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

References found in this work BETA

View all 31 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Complements, Not Competitors: Causal and Mathematical Explanations.Holly Andersen - 2017 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:axw023.
Complements, Not Competitors: Causal and Mathematical Explanations.Holly Andersen - 2018 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 69 (2):485-508.

View all 22 citations / Add more citations

Similar books and articles

A Field Guide to Mechanisms: Part II.Holly Andersen - 2014 - Philosophy Compass 9 (4):284-293.
The Concept of Mechanism in Biology.Daniel J. Nicholson - 2012 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 43 (1):152-163.
Mechanisms Are Real and Local.Phyllis McKay Illari & Jon Williamson - 2011 - In Phyllis McKay Illari, Federica Russo & Jon Williamson (eds.), Causality in the Sciences. Oxford University Press.
Mechanisms, Laws, and Regularities.Holly Andersen - 2011 - Philosophy of Science 78 (2):325-331.
Thinking About Mechanisms.Peter K. Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
A Formal Framework for Representing Mechanisms?Alexander Gebharter - 2014 - Philosophy of Science 81 (1):138-153.
What is a Mechanism? Thinking About Mechanisms Across the Sciences.Phyllis Illari & Jon Williamson - 2012 - European Journal for Philosophy of Science 2 (1):119-135.


Added to PP index

Total views
447 ( #13,029 of 2,325,126 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
39 ( #16,501 of 2,325,126 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes