Functional analysis and mechanistic explanation

Synthese 191 (12):2695-2714 (2014)
  Copy   BIBTEX


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 course, sees explanation as a matter of describing structures that maintain (or produce) the explanandum capacity. In this paper, I defend the received view by criticizing Piccinini and Craver’s argument for the claim that psychological explanation is not distinct from mechanistic explanation, and by showing how psychological explanations can possess explanatory force even when nothing is known about the underlying neurological details. I conclude with a few brief criticisms about the enterprise of mechanistic explanation in general



    Upload a copy of this work     Papers currently archived: 92,168

External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server

Through your library

Similar books and articles

What is psychological explanation?William Bechtel & Cory Wright - 2009 - In Sarah Robins, John Francis Symons & Paco Calvo (eds.), The Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Psychology. New York, NY: Routledge. pp. 113--130.
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.
Systems biology and the integration of mechanistic explanation and mathematical explanation.Ingo Brigandt - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):477-492.
Mechanistic explanation without the ontic conception.Cory Wright - 2012 - European Journal of Philosophy of Science 2 (3):375-394.


Added to PP

149 (#127,119)

6 months
10 (#274,061)

Historical graph of downloads
How can I increase my downloads?

Author's Profile

David Barrett
University of Arkansas, Fayetteville

Citations of this work

Mechanistic Abstraction.Worth Boone & Gualtiero Piccinini - 2016 - Philosophy of Science 83 (5):686-697.
Mechanism or Bust? Explanation in Psychology.Lawrence A. Shapiro - 2017 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 68 (4):1037-1059.
Mechanism or Bust? Explanation in Psychology.Lawrence A. Shapiro - 2016 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science:axv062.

View all 11 citations / Add more citations

References found in this work

Explaining the brain: mechanisms and the mosaic unity of neuroscience.Carl F. Craver - 2007 - New York : Oxford University Press,: Oxford University Press, Clarendon Press.
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, GB: Oxford University Press.
Functional analysis.Robert E. Cummins - 1975 - Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.

View all 20 references / Add more references