The case for regularity in mechanistic causal explanation

Synthese 189 (3):415-432 (2012)
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Abstract

How regular do mechanisms need to be, in order to count as mechanisms? This paper addresses two arguments for dropping the requirement of regularity from the definition of a mechanism, one motivated by examples from the sciences and the other motivated by metaphysical considerations regarding causation. I defend a broadened regularity requirement on mechanisms that takes the form of a taxonomy of kinds of regularity that mechanisms may exhibit. This taxonomy allows precise explication of the degree and location of regular operation within a mechanism, and highlights the role that various kinds of regularity play in scientific explanation. I defend this regularity requirement in terms of regularity’s role in individuating mechanisms against a background of other causal processes, and by prioritizing mechanisms’ ability to serve as a model of scientific explanation, rather than as a metaphysical account of causation. It is because mechanisms are regular, in the expanded sense described here, that they are capable of supporting the kinds of generalizations that figure prominently in scientific explanations.

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Holly Andersen
Simon Fraser University

Citations of this work

The Metaphysics of Constitutive Mechanistic Phenomena.Marie I. Kaiser & Beate Krickel - 2017 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 68 (3).
Mechanisms: what are they evidence for in evidence-based medicine?Holly Andersen - 2012 - Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice 18 (5):992-999.
A Field Guide to Mechanisms: Part I.Holly Andersen - 2014 - Philosophy Compass 9 (4):274-283.
Mechanistic explanation without the ontic conception.Cory Wright - 2012 - European Journal of Philosophy of Science 2 (3):375-394.

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References found in this work

Thinking about mechanisms.Peter Machamer, Lindley Darden & Carl F. Craver - 2000 - Philosophy of Science 67 (1):1-25.
Explaining the Brain.Carl F. Craver - 2007 - Oxford University Press.
Explanation: a mechanist alternative.William Bechtel & Adele Abrahamsen - 2005 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 36 (2):421-441.

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