Functional analysis and mechanistic explanation

Synthese 191 (12):2695-2714 (2014)
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Abstract

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

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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.

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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.

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