Constitutive Explanatory Relevance

Journal of Philosophical Research 32:3-20 (2007)
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Abstract

In what sense are the activities and properties of components in a mechanism explanatorily relevant to the behavior of a mechanism as a whole? I articulate this problem, the problem of constitutive relevance, and I show that it must be solved if we are to understand mechanisms and mechanistic explanation. I argue against some putative solutions to the problem of constitutive relevance, and I sketch a positive account according to which relevance is analyzed in terms ofrelationships of mutual manipulability between the behavior of a mechanism as a whole and the properties and activities of its components. My account is a causal-mechanical account in the sense that it is a particular expression of the idea that constitutive explanation is a matter of showing how an explanandum phenomenon is situated within the causal structure of the world. It is thus offered as a rival to epistemic (argument-centered) and psychological accounts of interlevel explanation.

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Carl F. Craver
Washington University in St. Louis