Physical law and mechanistic explanation in the Hodgkin and Huxley model of the action potential

Philosophy of Science 75 (5):1022-1033 (2008)
Hodgkin and Huxley’s model of the action potential is an apparent dream case of covering‐law explanation in biology. The model includes laws of physics and chemistry that, coupled with details about antecedent and background conditions, can be used to derive features of the action potential. Hodgkin and Huxley insist that their model is not an explanation. This suggests either that subsuming a phenomenon under physical laws is insufficient to explain it or that Hodgkin and Huxley were wrong. I defend Hodgkin and Huxley against Weber’s heteronomy thesis and argue that explanations are descriptions of mechanisms. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Philosophy, Philosophy‐Neuroscience‐Psychology Program, Washington University in St. Louis, One Brookings Drive, Wilson Hall, St. Louis, MO 63130; e‐mail:
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DOI 10.1086/594543
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Ingo Brigandt (2013). Systems Biology and the Integration of Mechanistic Explanation and Mathematical Explanation. Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (4):477-492.
James Woodward (2013). Mechanistic Explanation: Its Scope and Limits. Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 87 (1):39-65.

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